Constitutional Lawyer: The Meeting Between Russian Lawyer and Trump Jr., Was Not Treason

Posted: Jul 11, 2017 1:01 PM
Constitutional Lawyer: The Meeting Between Russian Lawyer and Trump Jr., Was Not Treason

UPDATE: Cortney wrote earlier today that Donald Trump Jr., has released the full email exchange he had with publicist Rob Goldstone, who represents Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, who arranged the meeting between Trump Jr., and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya:

Social media users are zooming in on the part where Goldstone tells Trump Jr. that the information the Russian official has "is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." He also said the documents would likely "incriminate" Clinton and be "very helpful to his father."

Certainly, this is disconcerting, though the meeting is not illegal and there is no indication or evidence that any dirt on Clinton was ever divulged during Trump Jr.,’s meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya, let alone acted upon after their June rendezvous. Also, please read Guy’s post on this development. The Times article of the email also left Mr. Turley saying that it leaves us with more questions than answers:

If the Kremlin was behind this information, why didn’t this mysterious Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, actually pass along such information? Instead, she is described by various people as stating some generalities about possible Russian support for Clinton without any support or documentation. If the Russians were making such a play to influence the election in favor of Clinton, this is a curious way to going about it.  First, they arrange a bizarrely high-profile meeting (when real spies tend to find third parties to get or transmit information).  Second, they secure the meeting but do not bring even a detailed account, let alone documents, to support the allegation.  Finally, if Trump had acted on that information, it would have been a disaster since it would have been baseless and unsupported.  To this day, there has been no evidence of Russian financial support to the Clinton campaign or Democratic National Committee.

It is also weird that Goldstone admitted that he spoke with the Trump team before speaking with the New York Times.  He then categorically denied the allegation and said that he was merely passing along a request from the father of his client  pop star Emin Agalarov.  Mr. Agalarov was an associated of Trump Sr. in the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.  He said that he was told that Veselnitskaya had information of possible illegal campaign contributions from Russia for Clinton.  He told the NYT that he “never, never, ever “thought (or presumably said) that the information was coming from the Russian government.”  That leaves us in a rather weird position.

For another take, please read Guy’s post today, where he says these emails sure look like collusion, though he noted that it would be best if we also see the emails that preceded the June meeting. If anything, he notes that the real problem right now is that this destroys the credibility of the Trump White House. Moreover, it appears that Trump Jr. wasn’t truthful with the timeline either. Still, and Guy mentions this, it’s quite possible that the seriousness of the allegations could be overlooked because the Democrats—now smelling blood—will overreach, which they have since Trump won the election; their allies in the media have been much worse.

Case in point:

**Original Post**

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, on June 9, 2016 under the pretense that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. In the end, Ms. Veselnitskaya just wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian human rights abusers that led to Russia banning American adoptions. Oh, and this whole meeting seemed to be set up at the request of a Russian pop star. In a statement, Donald Trump Jr., said:

“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

“It became clear to me that this [The Magnitsky Act] was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” he added.

From the corners of the anti-Trump world, it was the shot heard around the world. It was the smoking gun of collusion, with some saying it was akin to treason. Frankly, it seems like a day that ends in “y” in politics. Who hasn’t been solicited for a meeting under the pretext that another party has dirt on someone’s opponent. It’s called opposition research. The Clintons also had their expert team of muckrakers. This is hardly an extraordinary event. Also, it seemed that there was no damning information at all. The New York Times and others already reported most of the dirt concerning the email server, the endless lies to justify that server’s existence, the Clinton Foundation, the shady donations, the lack of disclosure of foreign donations etc., it was all public by June of 2016.  Yet, let’s circle back to whether this is treason or some other felonious act that transpired with this meeting. Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School, who wrote that he doesn’t see any illegality with this rendezvous, least of all any treasonous activities. At the same time, he does feel that the event surrounding the meeting deserves a closer look [emphasis mine]:

I tend to view these things through the lens of a criminal defense attorney and I do not see how either Trump Jr. or Natalia Veselnitskaya could be put into “custody” for such a meeting.  There is no crime in listening to people who say that they have incriminating information on a political opponent, even a foreigner.  Article III defines treason as “levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”  To say that this type of meeting even borders on treason is quite a departure from the language and cases governing that crime.


Once again, experts are pulling out the Logan Act to suggest a possible crime.  Norm Eisen, a former chief White House ethics attorney, referenced the law even though it has only been enforce once and it widely viewed as unconstitutional, as we have previously discussed. Vermont Law Professor Jennifer Taub suggests that it could be charged as a conspiracy to defraud the United States.  So listening to someone who claims to have evidence that a federal crime by your competitors is now an effort to defraud under 18 U.S.C. 371? I am highly skeptical of the chances of such a claim and I have never seen the like of it.  Others have suggested that he might be charged with “violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national.”  Well, business people accept things of value for foreign officials all the time. It is called transnational business. Presumably, this is meant to suggest a criminal contribution to a campaign from a foreign national — ironically the very allegation raised by the Russian lawyer against Clinton as the purpose of the meeting.  That allegation is rather hard to square with the fact that campaign officials and candidates speak to foreign leaders and sources all the time on issues.  If notice of a possible crime or information is now deemed as thing of tangible value under federal campaign laws, the wide array of exchanges on behalf of campaign would be implicated. Indeed, major free speech and association issues would be raised.  Once again, this is a matter that is worthy of investigation. However, these possible criminal charges are radically over-extended on the facts that we currently have.

Now, the Times says there’s an email that’s now thrown into the investigative mix [emphasis mine]:

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.

There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.

It’s a tad more disconcerting, but we can’t corroborate this claim. Moreover, Ms. Veselnitskaya denied that any discussion of the campaign ever came up during their meeting. All we know from this story is that Trump Jr., and this Russian lawyer met. That’s not a crime. Also, the UK’s Independent reported that Ms. Veselnitskaya might be connected to the firm that gathered information for the now discredited Russian dossier compiled by former MI6 operative Christopher Steele:

The Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr and allegedly offered to supply damaging information about Hillary Clinton, is apparently linked to a firm that helped compile the notorious dossier of wild and unproven allegations about the US President.


In a statement, Mark Corallo added: “Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the President and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier.”

Fusion GPS, which is based in Washington DC and was established by former Wall Street Journal reporters Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, found itself in the spotlight earlier this year after it emerged it was behind an “oppo research” dossier containing unproven and often salacious allegations about Mr Trump.

The company had originally been hired by Republican rivals of Mr Trump during the primary campaign. After he secured the party's nomination, the company was instead paid by Democratic financial supporters of Ms Clinton. In the summer of 2016, GPS hired former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, to help their work.

Oh, and this firm has not been cooperative with Congress with their inquiries into their activities. Let’s just take this one step at a time: Trump Jr., had a meeting with a Russian lawyer that doesn’t appear to be illegal in any way, shape, or form. If this turns out to be a nothing burger, which is very possible, then it will go on the list of the many times the media got a face full of buckshot for peddling non-stories about Russian collusion, which is bordering on Russophobic hysteria.

We're about to enter another round of groundless speculation, with today’s guest Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

COONS: Well, Wolf, the fact that this meeting took place in Trump Tower including Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, his son-in-law, now a senior White House official, and his son, and that they were seeking information, allegedly compromising information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian source, suggests that folks with those senior positions in the Trump campaign were routinely seeking such information. And it is just one indication, as Sen. [Mark] Warner (D-VA) said—the first public indication that meetings of this sort may have happened, not just in Trump Tower, but in other times and other places.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: But you don’t know that...

COONS: I don’t know that.

BLITZER: You’re just speculating, right?

COONS: I’m just speculating at this point. That’s right.

Again, listening to dirt on an opponent from a foreign source is not a crime. Second, seeking damning information on Clinton is not an alien function of a political campaign. Third, it’s not like this dirt on Clinton was hidden away. Last, because all we know for sure is that they met, which, again, isn’t a crime—and there still isn't actual evidence of collusion. After that rather lengthy remark, Blitzer was able to blow this straw house down by reminding Coons and CNN’s viewers that there’s no evidence that the Trump campaign ever had a concerted effort to obtain damning information from a foreign source. Also, if that’s a problem, what’s the deal with the Russian dossier on Trump then?