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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/14/18

Will Trump Be Charged With Conspiracy to Violate Federal Election Law?

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In addition to the case for Donald Trump's obstruction of justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, evidence is mounting that the president participated in a conspiracy to violate the federal election law. Mueller could either ask a grand jury to indict Trump as a co-conspirator or to name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.

Federal Election Law

Trump's August 5 tweet that the purpose of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Russian operative Natalia Veselnitskaya "was to get information on an opponent" was tantamount to an admission of a conspiracy to violate federal election law.

Although the president added it was "totally legal and done all the time in politics," he was mistaken about the "totally legal" part.

The federal election law says it is unlawful for "a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value ... in connection with a Federal, State, or local election." Providing the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton to discredit her in the election constitutes a "thing of value." It is also illegal for "a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation ... from a foreign national."

Conspiracy Law

Another federal law makes it a crime for two or more persons to conspire to commit an offense or defraud the United States. The defraud clause criminalizes "any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of government."

Trump also tweeted that "it went nowhere." But there is legal liability for conspiracy even if the purpose of the conspiracy is not accomplished.

A conspiracy is complete upon an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime followed by at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy, even if that crime is never committed. The overt act need not be unlawful in itself.

Six days before the Trump Tower meeting, British tabloid reporter Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. that the Russian government had "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary," adding, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Seconds later, Trump Jr. replied, "if it's what you say I love it."

Conspiracy to Violate the Federal Election Law

Trump Jr. arranged the meeting with the expectation of receiving negative information the Russian government purportedly had about Clinton. That constituted an agreement between Goldstone and Trump Jr. to violate the federal election law.

Arranging the meeting and attending the meeting were both overt acts. Everyone who attended the meeting with knowledge of its purpose and the intent to further that purpose is liable for conspiracy to violate the federal election law.

All co-conspirators are legally responsible for the acts of the other co-conspirators, even if they didn't directly participate in those acts or are unaware of the details of the conspiracy. Trump need not have attended the June 9 meeting to be liable as a co-conspirator.

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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