Fred Wertheimer: Federal Law Prohibits the “Solicitation” from a Foreign Source that Occurred with Regard to the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting

Aug. 7, 2018 – Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

Federal law prohibits a person from soliciting contributions, including in-kind contributions, from foreign nationals in connection with a federal election. The prohibition on soliciting a contribution is violated regardless of whether the person receives the contribution being solicited.

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President Trump has admitted, in writing, that the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between senior campaign officials, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., and Kremlin-linked Russian nationals was held to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton. In a tweet, Trump said, “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent….”

While Trump also said that the meeting was “totally legal and done all the time in politics,” that is not true, because the opposition research in this case was being solicited from foreign nationals.

Federal law makes it unlawful for a foreign national to “directly or indirectly” make a contribution or donation of money “or other thing of value” in connection with a federal election. 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(1)(A). Opposition research has value to a campaign and thus qualifies as a “thing of value.”

Federal law also makes it unlawful for any person “to solicit, accept or receive” a contribution or donation of any “thing of value” to a campaign. 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(2).

Regulations issued by the Federal Election Commission provide that “No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation” of “money or other thing of value.” 11 C.F.R. § 110.20(g). For these purposes, “knowingly” is defined to mean that a person has “actual knowledge” that the source who is solicited is a foreign national. 11 C.F.R. § 110.20(a)(4).

For purposes of the provision, the term “solicit” means to “ask, request or recommend, explicitly or implicitly” that a person “provide anything of value.” 11 C.F.R. §§ 110.20(a)(6), 300.2(m).

A solicitation is defined to include any oral or written communication that, “construed as reasonably understood in the context in which it is made,” contains a “clear message asking, requesting, or recommending” that another person provide anything of value. 11 C.F.R. § 300.2(m).  The regulations state that a solicitation “may be made directly or indirectly.”  Id.

The original cover story about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian foreign nationals was that it was for the purpose of discussing issues relating to foreign adoptions. President Trump has now admitted that this story was false and that the meeting was for the purpose of getting opposition research “information” on Hillary Clinton.

According to published reports, the meeting with campaign officials was set up in response to an email sent to Donald Trump Jr., which stated that a former Russian business partner of his father had been contacted by a senior Russian government official who was offering to provide documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealing with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

According to the email sent to Donald Trump Jr., “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump.”  According to this report, Don Trump Jr. responded to the email by saying, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” After further emails, the intermediary wrote back proposing a meeting on June 9, 2016 with a “Russian government attorney.”

The record thus establishes that Donald Trump Jr. knew that he was having a meeting with Russian foreign nationals and that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss and receive opposition research on Hillary Clinton from the foreign nationals.

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In response to the invitation for the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. responded by saying, “I love it especially later in the summer” and he agreed to hold a meeting with persons he knew were Russian nationals for the purpose of receiving documents that he had been told would “incriminate” Clinton.  These statements and actions can only be “reasonably understood” as sending a “clear message” that he was asking the foreign nationals to provide the incriminating documents on Clinton.

This constitutes a “solicitation” under the law and is thus an apparent violation of the prohibition on soliciting anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a federal election.