There has been a fierce debate on whether or not Donald Trump violated campaign finance laws by directing his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to buy their silence before the 2016 presidential election. While Rudy Giuliani has dismissed that the revelations made by Cohen in his plea deal implicate Trump directly, ethics experts have argued that Trump is culpable of having directed a felony.
But Fred Wertheimer and Norm Eisen -- both chiefs of important ethics watchdogs -- wrote in an explosive op-ed published in USA Today that Donald Trump's crimes are more obvious for everyone to see.
Wertheimer and Eisen argue that the sheer fact that Trump called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails immediately after reports showed that U.S. intelligence blamed the Kremlin for hacking into the Democratic National Committee servers is evidence of Trump's campaign violating federal law.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment of 13 Russian nationals showed that Russia tried to hack into Hillary's emails on the same day that Trump called on Russia to interfere.
"Federal campaign finance law prohibits any person from soliciting campaign contributions, defined as anything of value to be given to influence an election, from a foreign national, including a foreign government.Even more significantly, Wertheimer and Eisen wrote that Trump was fully aware that it was illegal for him to seek support from a foreign government when he made the demand. Shortly before he made the infamous "Russia, if you're listening" speech, Trump had reportedly signed sworn affidavits claiming a deep understanding of campaign finance laws. The pair wrote that not only did Trump elicit support from Russia, but his campaign asked for money from other politicians around the world.
"But in this case, on or around the same day that Trump solicited help from Russia, Russia made its first attempt to break into servers that Hillary Clinton's personal office used. That event is laid out in detail in an indictment of Russian hackers obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller."
"On June 29 and July 22, 2016, watchdog groups (including one led by one of the authors) filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, respectively, against Trump's presidential campaign committee for illegally soliciting financial support from parliamentarians in countries around the world, including Iceland, Scotland, Australia and Great Britain.""Multiple news organizations had reported that Trump's campaign was violating the ban on foreign solicitations by emailing fundraising solicitations to foreign nationals," the two ethics experts added.
Wertheimer and Eisen contend that it is unlikely that the Justice Department will charge the president directly for his alleged role in breaking campaign finance laws, but they laid out a different set of options. Even if Trump cannot be implicated directly, they argued, his campaign and organization must pay the price.
"The Trump campaign is legally responsible under principles of vicarious liability for the statements of its head, and so could be indicted," they wrote. "The Russia solicitation could be included in an indictment featuring other counts, such as charging the campaign and the Trump Organization for the separate alleged hush money violations described by Cohen."