How Much Legal Trouble Is Donald Trump Jr. In?

CNN/ Newswire | 7/14/2017, 8:14 a.m.
Newly released emails related to Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer to gather damaging information on ...
Donald Trump Jr.

By Joan Biskupic

CNN Legal Analyst and Supreme Court Biographer

Newly released emails related to Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer to gather damaging information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton ratchet up the possible legal liability for the President's son and other campaign operatives involved with the Russians last year.

The latest emails could relate most directly to federal campaign finance law barring the solicitation of any contribution or "thing of value" from foreign nationals.

Legal analysts also raise the possibility of perjury, for example, if Trump Jr. or anyone else involved earlier denied any Russian meeting to federal investigators. Anyone who made a false statement to federal investigators about the meeting, including a material omission on government personnel paperwork, could be in serious jeopardy. It is not clear that he has made any statements under oath related to the Russian interference in the election.

Some other critics of the administration, including Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who was Clinton's running mate, have suggested the President's son might have engaged in treason by dealing with a foreign adversary -- but that is a possibility that many legal analysts reject.

Both Constitution and federal law covering treason provide the United States be actively at war with the foreign adversary for such a charge.

The New York Times first reported on Saturday the meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer. Trump's son Tuesday released a chain of emails about the meeting with someone the email said was a Kremlin-connected lawyer who supposedly had "very high level and sensitive information" that would "incriminate" Clinton.

That email from publicist Rob Goldstone offered a meeting with "a Russian government attorney" with "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia."

Trump Jr. responded: "If it's what you say I love it."

Federal campaign finance law makes it a crime to "knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation ... or other thing of value."

The crucial question of any prosecution would involve whether the information exchanged rises to a "thing of value," said CNN legal analyst Stephen Vladeck.

"Whether the Trump campaign violated campaign finance laws simply by having the meeting is actually a bit complicated," said Vladeck, "a University of Texas law professor, because it turns to some degree on the extent to which the opposition research is a 'thing of value,' and whether the Russians thereby gave 'substantial assistance' to the campaign, terms that are notoriously opaque in this context."

He added that for federal investigators, the larger issue could be whether laws were broken in subsequent misstatements or refusals to acknowledge the existence of the meeting.

Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor who specializes in election law, said Tuesday's disclosures could ramp up the legal consequences. He said the emails suggest the President's son knew he would be meeting with a foreign source for potentially valuable information.

He cautioned, however, that such campaign violations can be difficult to prove.