The revelation that Donald Trump, Jr. jumped on an offer to meet with a person described as a “Russian government attorney” bringing the Trump campaign gifts of documents that would injure the image of Hillary Clinton and help sway the election for Trump not only has ethical ramifications, it also raises a host of potential criminal violations.
On the ethical front, the stories given by Don Jr. as well as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump adviser Jared Kushner keep changing. Neither Manafort nor Kushner declared that they had ever met with the Russian attorney on their mandatory disclosure forms.. As questions were raised, they later amended their disclosure forms to acknowledge such a meeting, as required by law. Donald Jr. was not required to file such a disclosure report, but he unequivocally denied any such meeting before it became public record. Earlier he told the New York Times: “‘Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,’ he said. ‘But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.'”
This week, Don Jr.’s own emails betrayed his earlier denials, as well as the non-disclosures of Manafort and Kushner.
On the legal front, federal campaign finance laws prohibit Americans from soliciting or accepting “anything of value” from foreign interests to be used to influence American elections. “Anything of value” has been broadly defined to include such things as polls and information that affect elections. This is precisely the type of information apparently promised by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney, for which Don Jr., reportedly agreed to a meeting, joined by Manafort and Kushner.
As Norm Eisen and Richard Painter, former ethics lawyers for Obama and Bush respectively, wrote for the New York Times, the meeting also raises questions of conspiracy with respect to espionage, “depending on how any illicit information was obtained and the level of their awareness of any spying.”
This whole sordid affair, once denied by the key players as ever having happened, now has the same players back-pedaling on their earlier misstatements – and all three have now hired personal attorneys.
Craig Holman, Ph.D. is currently Government Affairs Lobbyist for Public Citizen, focusing on campaign finance and governmental ethics.
Photo courtesy of Max Goldberg.