Donald Trump Jr. released emails on Tuesday that prove that he met with a Russian lawyer during the presidential election to receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. But the president's son is maintaining that since the meeting wasn't fruitful, he did nothing wrong. In a Tuesday evening interview with Sean Hannity, Trump Jr. said "it's a shame" he didn't get any information from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya — a line that may prove crucial in determining whether or not Trump Jr. is guilty of any criminal activity, legal experts say.
Trump Jr., who has stated via Twitter that he is attempting to be "totally transparent" about the matter, told Hannity that the meeting was "just a nothing."
There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn't have even remembered it until you started scouring through this stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
This is a pretty interesting defense, because Trump Jr. is essentially stating that it's unfortunate that he didn't receive intelligence from Veselnitskaya — even though it's clear from the email exchange that Trump Jr. knew that such information would have been part of "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
According to current U.S. campaign finance law, it is illegal for foreign nationals to contribute any "thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any [federal] election.” But it is also illegal for an American citizen to "knowingly solicit, accept, or receive" any "contribution or donation" from foreign nationals.
Given that Trump Jr. actually met with a Russian official for information that would be helpful to his father's campaign — and expressed disappointment when he didn't get it — the key word here may just be "solicit."
Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in a blog post that based on the email exchange, there is a possible violation of campaign finance law present.
Trump Jr. appears to have knowledge of the foreign source and is asking to see it. ... Hard to see how there is not a serious case here of solicitation.
Other legal experts seem to agree. Lawer Jeffrey Jacobovitz, who once represented officials in the Clinton White House, told The Washington Post that Trump Jr. "may have crossed the line on conspiracy to commit election fraud," while Jens David Ohlin, associate dean of Cornell Law School, said that "the question of the campaign's involvement appears settled now. The answer is yes."
Earlier on Tuesday, Veselnitskaya told NBC News that while she didn't provide any information about the Clintons for Trump Jr. in their meeting, it was possible that the president's son badly wanted damning info about Clinton. Now that Trump Jr. has pretty much confirmed this in his interview with Hannity, it could create even more trouble for the first family.