Experts Weigh In On Russia Collusion: Did Trump Jr. Break The Law?

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A report by The Washington Post called it a “kamikaze tweetstorm” and a “frankly impressive display of self-immolation.” Democratic senators have said that “it looks like laws were violated.”

Meanwhile, yesterday Republican senators were wandering the halls on Capitol Hill, averting the hunter-like gaze of reporters stalking the building with the hope of discovering meaty responses – and major headlines – from politicians.

The source of the commotion? A stunning revelation that, despite persistent denials in the past, Donald Trump Jr. did, in fact, have direct contact with Russian agents during his father’s presidential campaign. Trump Jr. tweeted evidence of the exchange using his Twitter timeline on Tuesday.

Startlingly, Trump Jr. tweeted evidence of the exchange using his Twitter timeline on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed more willing to speak to reporters than most of his fellow Republican partisans. According to The Washington Post, a reporter asked McConnell whether his trust in President Donald Trump had waned following recent events.

“[The Senate intelligence committee will] get to the bottom of whatever may have happened,” the senator answered.

But the million dollar question on everyone’s mind is whether Donald Trump Jr. has violated any laws. In response to this issue, it seems that both legal experts, as well as politicians, are divided on the matter.


Section 371 – Title 18, Part I, Chapter 19 – of the United States Code, states that if two or more individuals enter into an agreement to commit a crime against the U.S. or any state department, such actions will be classified as conspiracy in legal terms.

Under section 371, each conspirator is eligible for prosecution, regardless of whether the crime was ultimately committed or not.

The New York Times spoke with legal practitioners to ascertain whether Donald Trump Jr. may have committed the crime of conspiracy.

According to Attorney Renato Mariotti, the recent revelations about President Trump’s son are not enough to bring conspiracy charges. However, Mariotti adds that if further evidence of collusion with Russia is revealed at a later stage, Trump Jr. could face the consequences.

“What this email string establishes is that Don Jr. was aware that the Russian government wanted to help the Trump campaign and he welcomed support from the Russian government.”

Samuel W. Buell, a lecturer of law at Duke University, alleges that Trump Jr.’s email exchange with Russian agents is not enough, on its own, to amount to a federal offense.

“But conspiracy is not a crime that floats by itself in the air. There has to be an underlying federal offense that is being conspired to be committed.”

Is there another statute that, if violated, could provide the grounds needed to prosecute Trump Jr.?

Donald Trump Jr. eagerly accepted help from what was described to him as a Russian government effort to aid his father's campaign with damaging information about Hillary Clinton
Donald Trump Jr. is interviewed by Fox News host Sean Hannity. [Image by Richard Drew/AP Images]Featured image credit: Richard DrewRichard Drew

Yes, under Section 30121 of Title 52, which deals with campaign “contributions and donations by foreign nationals,” it is strictly prohibited for a foreign national, whether “directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other things of value” during a U.S. election.

But there is no legal precedent for such a prosecution, and experts remain divided over the legal interpretation of the “thing of value” that is described in the statute. In the context of different U.S. codes, the term has been used to denote information and “intangibles” as items of value.

A former member of Barack Obama’s White House counsel, Robert Bauer, alleges that research conducted by Russian agents with the purpose of aiding Donald Trump’s campaign is, in his legal opinion, a “thing of value.”

“It’s valuable information and counts as a contribution when given to or distributed for the benefit of a campaign.”

At variance with Mr. Bauer, a George Washington University professor Orin S. Kerr, argues that a “thing of value” falls under the broader scope of contributions.

“The phrase ‘contribution or donation’ sounds like a gift to help fund the campaign or give them something they otherwise would buy.”

Mr. Kerr alleges that, if his reading is accurate, Donald Trump Jr.’s actions will not meet the requirements for a prosecution case.

[Featured Image by Richard Drew/AP Images]