By Akash Kashyap, JD, Brooklyn Law School
The ongoing controversy involving links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government was given a shot in the arm by recent revelations by Donald Trump Jr., son of President Trump.
In a shock move last Monday, Donald Trump Jr. released a series of e-mails detailing a meeting he took with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veslnitskaya just after his father secured the nomination for the Republican party last year.
The e-mail confirms that the meeting was part of the Russian government’s efforts to support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, as well as Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic support for this arrangement.
This reveal comes after a series of assertions and hasty backtracking from the son of President Trump regarding potential Russian involvement with the Trump campaign last year. Back in March, Trump Jr. spoke to the New York Times, stating that he may have met some individuals from Russia, but all were spontaneous and none involved him in the capacity of a campaign official.
On July 8th, his meeting with Veselnitskaya came to light, he claimed it was a meeting involving “a program about the adoption of Russian children” and had no relation to the campaign. The next day he conceded that the meeting involved information that could potentially help the campaign, but stated he had no idea she had any connection with the Russian government.
Finally, he released his e-mails, in which it was demonstrated that he was aware that Natalia Veslnitskaya was acting as a representative for the Russian government, and the information she offered would be coming from the Russian government. He also forwarded the chain to his brother-n-law, Jared Kushner and Paul Maniford, then campaign manager – putting the lie to his claim that he was not involved in relation to the Trump campaign.
The meeting itself was setup by Rob Goldstone, runner of a public relations company Oui2, on behalf of his Emin Agalarov. Agalarov is a pop singer and the son of Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov.
In addition to Veselnitskaya, the meeting was attended by several people on behalf of the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Important campaign personnel were present, including Paul Maniford, then campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, Trump Jr.’s brother-in-law. Both were forwarded the e-mail chain Trump has released online.
Ex-Soviet counterintelligence operative Rinat Akhmetshin has also stepped forward that he attended the meeting. Akhmetshin is a prominent pro-Russia lobbyist, and suspected Russian spy.
There is no indication yet whether the meeting led to any actual exchange of information, nor that it was related to the hacking of the Democratic party’s data – widely considered a Russian state operation. However, there are still several problems with the existence of this meeting, and the participants.
Given the increased hostility with Russia during the Ukranian and Syrian crises, Russian interests could be considered adverse enough to American interests to make them a hostile power. In that case, Russian interference within a Presidential campaign could be considered treasonous.
Even if Russia could not have been considered an enemy state at the time, colluding with any foreign government to manipulate the process for selecting the head of state itself may be grounds for treason charges.
It is also a potential violation of campaign finance law. Under 11 CFR 110.20, it is a criminal act to receive “a donation of money or other thing of value” from a foreign national. This would clearly include the provision of damaging information against one’s political opponent – something that campaigns spend large amounts of money on under the heading of “opposition research”.
Given these potentially criminal actions, President Trump’s involvement or knowledge of this meeting, if proven, may prove more than grounds for impeachment. This would make him the third modern president to be the subject of impeachment proceedings, and the first to be so during his first year in office.