The recently revealed emails by Donald Trump Jr. confirm a lot of things. That Russia favored Donald Trump in the election. That President Trump’s campaign officials had contact with Russian connections. And that the Trump administration has lied about certain details. But does anything actually add up to breaking the law?
“The problem for the Trump administration is that this is a big shoe that has dropped and only adds fuel to the investigatory fire,” Former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “This confirms a lot of suspicions for people.”
“At the minimum, they were caught lying about saying there were no meetings,” he said.
The controversy has some people eager for impeachment. But the big question is if Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on rival Hillary Clinton amounts to violating the law.
“It would have been illegal if it constituted material participation by the foreign government,” McKenna said. “And it would raise the question of if the campaign had solicited something of value from a foreign government, which is also illegal.”
“I doubt this rises to the level of asking a foreign government for something of value, the way the statute is constructed,” he said. “So it may be more of a political embarrassment than a legal liability. But then again, Mr. Trump. Jr. has hired a criminal defense lawyer and his father went out of his way on Twitter to say ‘My son is innocent.’ Well, innocent of what? Why are you saying that?”
Trump Jr.’s opposition research
Then there’s the claim that the meeting was about opposition research — that Trump Jr. was looking into potential information that could tarnish the opponent.
“It gets a bit trickier because is agreeing to take a meeting after you get contacted the same as soliciting something of value?” McKenna said. “If you have a discussion and you ask if you can have more information about this, is that asking for something of value or not? Opposition research is not clearly a thing of value the way money would be, or data, or hard information.”
McKenna’s political career has included a run for governor. He’s helped with other campaigns, too. He’s well aware of opposition research and said that it is usually a campaign volunteer, such as a lawyer, never an official who takes such meetings.
“It’s not unusual to be given those offers,” he said. “To hear from people, ‘Hey, I’ve got dirt on your opponent.’ I would say it’s unusual that you would send the campaign manager in to take that meeting … It was a real blunder for the son of the candidate to bring his brother-in-law and the campaign manager in to meet someone he did not seem to know, really, to hear supposed information coming from the Russian government. That is astounding he would do that.”
“These are all the hallmarks of a deeply inexperienced individual when it comes to campaigns,” McKenna said. “We’ve seen this pattern again and again, where inexperience leads to very poor judgment, which leads to embracing mistakes and legal trouble.”