In June 2016, as the general election campaign kicking into high gear, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya. The goal, as he expressly admitted in a statement issued on Sunday, was to attempt to acquire useful information on Hillary Clinton.
“I was asked to have a meeting ... with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign,” 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.”
Trump Jr.’s defense was that the meeting didn’t actually end up bearing fruit: His statement says that “it quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” In other words, there’s no way this constituted meaningful collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, because Veselnitskaya didn’t provide him with anything useful.
But experts on national security and election law say there’s a good case that this “defense” is, legally speaking, no defense at all.
Trump Jr.’s decision to meet with the Russian attorney to see what information she might have, they say, may well have violated campaign finance law. You don’t have to actually get useful help from foreigners, according to this law: The mere fact that Trump Jr. asked for information from a Russian national about Clinton, and heard her out as she attempted to describe it, might have constituted a federal crime.
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