The revelation that Donald Trump, Jr. met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin in June of 2016 to obtain information damaging to Hillary Clinton and helpful to his father’s campaign has ignited a firestorm of comment and critique. The fact that Donald Jr. attended a meeting based upon information he received from music publicist Rob Goldstone is shocking.
Trump Jr. invited Paul Manafort, his father’s former campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, one of his father’s closest advisors, to come along. He didn’t inform anyone else of the meeting. Security protocols practically required Trump Jr. to contact the Secret Service. Certainly this meeting was, at the very least, extraordinarily sensitive. The fact that Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Akhmetshin were present at the meeting made it a very delicate affair. The fact that no one informed the Secret Service is stunning.
Indeed, Trump Jr.’s conduct in this meeting is completely contrary to his prior statements denying contact with Russians. But can his conduct form the basis for criminal charges?
While I would love to say that yes, his actions will surely result in grand jury indictments, I just can’t. At least at this point, I can’t say he’s likely to be charged criminally. So here are the three reasons why Trump Jr. may escape criminal prosecution:
Reason #1 – Collusion Is Not A Crime
A number of commentators have used the term “collusion” to describe Trump Jr.’s behavior. Collusion is not a federal crime no matter how tall the tale. While Trump Jr. arguably colluded with everyone at the meeting to obtain information regarding Hillary Clinton, the bottom line is that there is no proof of information being passed.
The meeting with a Russian lawyer and lobbyist was stupid but not a violation of law on its own. In addition, listening to what the Russians had to say is not criminal conduct. Thus far, it seems no information was exchanged that could possibly have aided his father’s campaign. This fact may place Don Jr.’s extremely ill-advised conduct beyond the reach of federal prosecutors.
Reason #2 – It Is Unlikely That Trump Jr. Violated Campaign Finance Laws – For Now
Campaign finance laws bar the acceptance of anything of value from a foreign government or a foreign national. The question is, was anything of value passed from Ms. Veselnitskaya to Trump Jr. and his entourage? To date there is no proof that anything of value was offered, accepted, or solicited.
Prosecutions for violations of the campaign finance law are extremely rare. Though the pre-meeting emails of Trump Jr. tend to demonstrate a willingness to work with Russians to help his father, there is no reference to accepting anything of value.
So it is very unlikely that a federal prosecutor will mount a prosecution for violations of the campaign finance law. In addition, there appears to be a failure of proof that Trump Jr., or the others, solicited anything of value from the Russians in attendance. It’s clear that the next time he will be hiring a criminal charges lawyer, he will be more careful about where and when he does it. It’s unlikely that we’ll hear the proper end to this in our lifetimes.
Reason #3 – What About the Lies Trump Jr. Told?
Trump Jr. did not initially disclose his meeting with the Russians. Most prominently he omitted revealing the meeting on his security clearance application. Democrats have called for Don Jr.’s resignation. He might have a lousy memory or might argue that the omission was unintended.
Moreover, this lie alone on his security clearance application is just not likely to draw the attention of federal prosecutors, or Trump Jr. would have received a target notice. Perhaps he has received notice he is a target of a federal investigation but has not publicly revealed it. There remains much that we, the public, do not know.
Robert Mueller has been named special counsel and is investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller’s FBI investigators will likely want to ask Trump Jr., and anyone at the June meeting, many questions. It is a crime to make false statements to federal official or agents. Although it appears so far that Trump Jr has not yet made a false statement to a federal official, he may well get the opportunity very soon. This, however, is just rank speculation. Thus far there is just precious little proof Donald Trump Jr. committed a crime.