Three good-government groups have accused Donald Trump Jr. of violating campaign finance laws by illegally coordinating with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The groups — Common Cause, Democracy 21, and the Campaign Legal Center — made the claims in a complaint filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
The complaint came days after the same groups formally asked Robert Mueller, the Justice Department special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election, to probe the issue.
On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. (pictured), the president’s eldest son, released emails in which he responded enthusiastically to an intermediary’s effort to set up a meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer, with the purpose of providing damaging information on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign.
Trump Jr. has said the lawyer ultimately provided nothing of value at the meeting, which was also attended by Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Sr.’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, at the time a top Trump campaign aide. But the complaint argues that Trump Jr. nevertheless violated laws against foreign campaign contributions.
“Federal campaign finance law makes it just as illegal for the Trump campaign or any other American to solicit a political contribution from a foreign citizen as to accept one,” writes Common Cause’s Paul S. Ryan in an op-ed accompanying the complaint. “And the law does not limit contributions to money; anything of value, provided without charge or for less than its fair market price, is covered.”
Plenty of campaign finance law experts agree with Ryan et al that Trump Jr. may be in legal jeopardy. But others — and not only those on the right — say what he did, though unethical, probably doesn’t fall under the set of activities banned by the law.
“[C]onstruing the solicitation ban so broadly as to encompass all attempts at information-seeking from foreign nationals would raise serious constitutional problems,” Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University, wrote online.
Of course, the legal debate may ultimately be beside the point: We don’t yet know whether the Trump campaign’s efforts to enlist Russian help were limited to the meeting at issue here. But you can be that Mueller and his team are working to find out.