Trump and Clinton Campaigns - It Is About Federal Law

(8-11-2018) - So much opinion, so little legal fact. I came across what I think is an extremely well written, factual comparison of the legal (and illegal) acts associated with the 2016 campaigns of Trump and Clinton.

Here's a link to the original web-source DailyKos contributor Krotor, submitted 8-8-2018, and titled "Collusion: a short primer, or Why we won't lock her up when we lock him up".

Here is an excerpt from the article that I wanted to copy for posterity - web blogs and news have a way of disappearing over time.

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If Trump and his confederates (in both senses of that word) risk prosecution for seeking political dirt about Hillary from Russians then shouldn't Hillary also be prosecuted for seeking political dirt about Trump from an English spy?

I've seen such questions posed here on Daily Kos in comments. Some readers find it puzzling that half of the tasty sauce we're hoping to baste the roasting Republican gander(s) with isn't being reserved for our own Democratic goose as well. So let's take a look and sort things out properly.

We've all probably colluded and conspired at times. Perhaps you and a friend arranged to have a couple of others meet, setting up an outing that was really intended to put them together on a blind date because you were sure they would like each other. Or maybe you conspired to keep a co-worker busy in another part of your workplace so others could put up balloons and streamers for her surprise birthday celebration in the breakroom.

Nothing is wrong or illegal with those activities: you were not colluding to carry out a crime. That's the key element in whether or not collusion itself becomes a crime: if it was done in order to plan, execute, or cover up criminal activity, then collusion is illegal and the correct term for it is criminal conspiracy.

Political campaigns need to carefully follow rules if they want to avoid scandal as well as charges by the Federal Election Commission or federal prosecutors. Many of those rules involve campaign donations: the who, what, and how of making donations.

In general, a campaign can accept donations of money, goods, or services. When doing so, in general, the campaign must file reports disclosing those donations. There are exceptions, of course. Campaigns can accept the time and effort of volunteers to do typical tasks - phone banks, stuffing envelopes, and so on - without reporting their "donation." People can host a party or event for a candidate in their home and supply food and beverages, without the campaign needing to report the donated refreshments (up to a $1000 limit).

But for the most part, a campaign has to report everything which it is given. If a printer donated a bunch of bumper stickers, the campaign needs to report it. If a dry cleaner donated his services to keep the candidate's suits clean and pressed, the campaign would need to report that as a donation. All non-cash donations must be noted with the fair market value of the goods or services and must stay within the legal limits for contributions.

If Trump or members of his campaign accepted "oppo" (research on the opposing candidate) from anyone, that would have to be reported with a realistic estimate of its cost had the campaign done the research itself. It can't be marked down to a dollar or treated as having no value.

If its real cost exceeded the campaign finance limits for individuals, or if it came from a corporation - which, in general, cannot donate to candidate campaigns - it would have to be reported and the excess cost would have to be "disgorged" (meaning the campaign would need to donate that amount to an eligible charity).

Failure to report donations, at their real value, may result in an administrative fine by the FEC. In serious cases, the Department of Justice may bring criminal charges against a candidate or campaign officials for the offenses.

If Natasha Fatale offers candidate Bullwinkle Moose any cash, goods, or services as a donation, the moose must reject the offer. It is strictly against the law for a candidate or campaign to receive donations of any kind from foreign nationals or foreign governments.

If Bullwinkle or his campaign asks Natasha for any kind of donation, that is a federal offense. To be sure, the Justice Department must establish an important fact that would be necessary to prove guilt: Bullwinkle's (or his campaign officials') likely knowledge that Natasha is a non-citizen or that she represents a foreign nation.

Some non-citizens can donate to campaigns: those who hold "green cards" and have permanent residence in the U.S. However, if Bullwinkle is found to have had knowledge that would lead a reasonable person to believe that Natasha was a "non-eligible" donor, he could be convicted of soliciting or accepting forbidden foreign contributions.

So even if the goods - like "opposition research" - are legitimate and freely given, it would be illegal to accept them from foreign operatives as a donation or gift.

The cast of characters in the infamous Trump Tower meeting were clearly suspect as non-citizens. All that was missing was Boris Badenov himself.

It's perfectly legal to hire a foreign national or a foreign company to perform work for you or for your business. That's also true for a political campaign. Although it would be illegal for a foreign entity to donate goods or services to a campaign, there is no prohibition against the foreign entity working for fair-market pay.

Let's say that Bullwinkle is very concerned about recent civil unrest in Pottsylvania and wishes to learn more in order to formulate a policy to include in his speeches and platform. He can hire Boris - who speaks the language and is familiar with the people, government, and organizations there - to do research and present a report on its affairs. As long as Boris is adequately paid and does his research legally and the campaign reports the expenditure to the FEC, there is no legal problem or violation.

If you buy a new flat-screen TV out of the trunk of someone's car, for a fraction of its normal price, it's reasonable to conclude that you are receiving stolen property. If the TV has your neighbor's name and address etched on the back, good luck trying to persuade judge and jury that you didn't know the TV was stolen. If you don't succeed, you might find yourself as a guest of the government at its version of a very downscale AirBnB for up to 10 years.

If someone offers you, as an official in a political campaign, a DVD labeled "Emails from Hillary and the DNC" and the person offering isn't Hillary or the DNC chair, you have a duty to determine that the information was legally obtained before accepting it. If you accept it with knowledge that a reasonable person would use to decide it was illegally gained, you would be committing the crime of receiving stolen goods.

It isn't necessary for you to accept the stolen goods in order to be convicted of a crime. Your intention to do so may be enough by itself.

If you found yourself in a high-rise luxury condo yakking it up with Boris and Natasha, and they offered to give you something that you should have known was probably stolen and you agree to accept it, you just went from conversing to colluding. In legal terms, you entered into conspiracy to commit a crime. It is not necessary that the goods actually change hands; your agreement to engage in the exchange makes you part of a criminal conspiracy.

If you thought Natasha and Boris might have access to stolen goods and asked them - rather than them volunteering - to provide you the goods, you engaged in the crime of soliciting another to commit a crime. It is not necessary that Natasha or Boris agree to do the deed; your request is criminal even without any further action.

If you didn't deal with Boris and Natasha directly but you discussed with Bullwinkle the logistics of accepting the stolen goods, gave him your approval to do so, or assisted him in covering up the matter, you are part of the criminal conspiracy. In other words, if you don't accept it directly, but instruct the other person to use the stolen goods in any way, you are engaging in a criminal conspiracy, even if the stolen goods are never used as you directed.

Keeping all of the above in mind, let's examine the involvement of the DNC and HIllary's campaign in the Steele dossier. Conservative groups originally hired a research firm, Fusion GPS, to investigate Donald Trump. When he became the Republican nominee, they lost interest. The DNC and Hillary's campaign, on the other hand, became very interested and hired Fusion GPS to continue research.

Fusion GPS contracted with Christopher Steele, a former spy from the UK, to do the research. Steele had extensive experience in Russia and maintained contacts there, whom he could consult for information about commercial and personal behaviors and activities involving Donald Trump.

The DNC and Hillary's campaign paid Fusion GPS for the research and, in turn, the company paid Steele for his work. The payments were duly reported as expenditures. At no point were Fusion GPS nor Steele solicited to steal information or commit other criminal acts in pursuit of their investigation. Neither Fusion GPS nor Steele donated their time and efforts, so their work was considered a legitimate campaign expense rather than a campaign donation.

There are no credible allegations that the activities of the DNC and Hillary's campaign violated the law in any way.

Now let's examine what has been reported and/or alleged about Trump and his cabal in this matter. Remember, all of the following are allegations at this point; we will need to wait for Robert Mueller's report and/or indictments and trials to shift the allegations into proven facts.

Key people in Trump's campaign met with known Russian nationals, allegedly with the goal of acquiring information stolen from the DNC and Hillary's campaign. Allegedly, this info would be a gift from the Russian government. If so, this single meeting would be a conspiracy to receive stolen goods as well as a conspiracy to violate laws against campaign donations by foreign individuals and entities.

Although the stolen data appears not to have been exchanged at that meeting, it was released via Wikileaks later. Allegations are that this was done via cutouts working on behalf of the Russian government in order to benefit Trump's candidacy. Further allegations are that this release may have been approved by or coordinated with officials in the Trump campaign. Any involvement by those officials in this action would be further grounds for charging them with conspiracy as well as other offenses.

As news of this meeting leaked, constantly shifting stories have emerged, with Donald Trump seeming to have more involvement with every change in the narrative. If the above conspiracy charges are true and if Trump does indeed know about what transpired and has helped to obfuscate the truth, then he too is part of the conspiracy, after the fact. If he knew about what was allegedly proposed before the meeting, then he would be a full-on co-conspirator from the beginning.

The story becomes even more complex and convoluted with other allegations, such as that Trump or his campaign officials may have promised a quid pro quo (a mutual exchange of favors) to remove sanctions against Russia as a reward for Russia's theft and release of the info to damage Hillary's campaign. Also, we have what appears to be strong evidence that Trump has attempted to thwart investigations into this matter, which would be another crime, obstruction of justice.

That, of course, doesn't even touch upon the many possible financial crimes related to his business dealings. If he is indicted on any of the dossier-related activities, it is extremely likely that investigators would thoroughly examine his businesses and taxes and anything is possible there. The list of potential felonies grows daily, it seems, and only time will tell how it all shakes out.

The actions of Hillary, her campaign, and the DNC in these matters were all completely legal and aboveboard, following the law and duly reported where necessary.

The actions of Trump and his cabal were, allegedly, replete with violations of campaign finance regulations and the US criminal code in multiple ways. Not only were the alleged actions not reported as required by law, efforts appear to have been made to cover up the activities; that exposes the participants to charges of obstruction of justice in addition to campaign finance and conspiracy charges.

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I think this effectively puts to rest (at least in my mind) the administration's attempts to conflate two very different campaigns in 2016. I hope to come back to this blog after the Trump Administration has been removed from power and this is all in our collective rear view mirror.