Donald Trump appeared to admit his son had conspired with a foreign national to help influence the outcome of the 2016 election in a tweet, today. He claims the meeting, which took place in Trump Tower, “went nowhere”, and he insists he did not know about it. But while the President insist the meeting was “totally legal”, merely taking part in the meeting could constitute a criminal conspiracy, whether it was successful or not.
The notorious 2016 meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr , Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose trial on unrelated fraud charges began last week At the meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya a lawyer with links to the Russian government is said to have offered the Trump campaign ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton which could be beneficial to their candidate. Today’s tweet appears to be the first time the President has publicly accepted the purpose of the meeting – to obtain ‘dirt’ on his opponent to influence the election. This tweet could be a big problem
Donald Jr – in a statement understood to have been dictated by the President himself – initially he and Ms Veselnitskaya had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” at the meeting. While the President had previously accepted the possibility of ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton may have been discussed at the meeting, he and his son maintained the primary focus was adoption. In today’s tweet, Trump said: “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent.” He went on to say it was “totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere.” A foreign national spending money – or giving something of value – in order to influence an election can be a crime, under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – which is based on statutes that have been on the books since the 1960s. If a US citizen were to coordinate, conspire or assist in that spending or gift, that could be a criminal conspiracy – even if it comes to nothing. Trump has always denied he was personally aware of the meeting taking place – something he repeated in today’s tweet, saying: “I did not know about it!” But his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani last Sunday morning, brought up the idea that Trump’s old lawyer, Michael Cohen, had ‘leaked’ that Trump was told about it. He told CNN: “[Cohen] said there was a one-on-one meeting that Donald Jr. came in and told him [Donald Trump] the meeting was about to take place. Well, there are two witnesses that say it didn’t happen [Trump and Don Jr.]. “… The one who allegedly told the president about it was Donald [Jr.], which Donald [Jr.] denies, the president denies, and there’s no corroboration of. And Cohen has never said this at any time up until now.” He later said the idea that Trump knew about the meeting was “categorically untrue.” Which makes it a very weird thing to bring up in a TV interview.