Trump Jr. may have crossed the legal line
“Cannot benefit from a foreign adversary in this ... scenario”
The New York Times reported — and Donald Trump Jr. appeared to confirm — that he agreed to a meeting with a Russian lawyer who had damaging information on Hillary Clinton after getting an email that the Russian government was trying to help his father win the election.
“It’s as close as you can get to a smoking gun” of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, said Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a white-collar lawyer who represented officials in the Clinton White House and now is with Arnall Golden Gregory LLP. And it could mean Trump Jr. crossed the legal line on collusion with Russia.
First, a reframing of the way we think of collusion. Collusion actually is a political term; there’s no line in the criminal code that says you go to jail for colluding with a foreign adversary.
But you can go to jail for conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence or undermine an election, and Jacobovitz thinks what Trump Jr. did, as documented by emails he himself shared on Twitter, could rise to that level.
“Absolutely,” Jacobovitz replied when asked if these emails firm up evidence Trump Jr. had intent to commit a crime by conspiring with the Russians. “You may have crossed the line on conspiracy to commit election fraud or conspiracy to obtain information from a foreign adversary,” he said. “You cannot benefit from a foreign adversary in this kind of scenario.”
In the email, Trump Jr. associate Rob Goldstone tells Trump Jr. that Russian officials “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
What special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of a dozen or so practiced investigators are likely looking for is evidence that the Trump campaign intended to conspire illegally with Russia to help their campaign and hurt Clinton’s. (Russia is also known for tricking people into doing its bidding.)
The fact that Trump Jr. took this meeting while being told what the Russians were up to is as clear as intent can get, Jacobovitz said.
“If he received an email in advance saying ‘This is coming from the Russian government,’ he’s certainly knowledgeable about where the information is coming from,” Jacobovitz said. “And he attempts to attend a meeting with the hope and intent to obtain inside dirt on Hillary Clinton. That would go a long way in trying to determine whether it’s conspiracy . ... It’s not as if he walks into the meeting and he’s surprised by what he’s hearing.”
Another piece of evidence to stack up in the “intent” column: Why were two of Trump’s top campaign aides also invited to the meeting? Trump Jr. says Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also would be there to meet with the Russian lawyer. It suggests that the Trump campaign put a very high premium on the meeting.
Also worth noting: Trump himself has drawn a line in the sand of what collusion means to him, a definition he may come to regret. Essentially, the president has said, collusion is knowing about something going on illegally and not doing anything about it.
Under that definition, it appears the Trump campaign rocketed past its own definition. It’s not normal, and it may not even be legal, to meet with a foreign adversary expecting dirt on your opponent.