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Friday, July 14, 2017

The Nonsense Stretch

I just read an article in which a person claiming to be a law professor explains why the meeting between the President's son and that Russian lawyer may constitute a crime.  I see no reason to embarrass the "professor" by putting forth his name, but some of the crazier bits of so called legal reasoning have to be examined.

According to the prof, no foreign person or state can provide anything of value to a US election campaign.  Accepting that "thing of value" is a crime, or so he claims.  And what is a "thing of value"?  The prof says that anything that a campaign might need meets that test. 

Think about that for a moment.  How many presidential candidates take foreign trips to burnish their foreign policy credentials?  The answer is all of them.  Candidate A goes to Europe or Asia or elsewhere and meets with the leader of the country.  If in 2015 or 2016, Marco Rubio went to France and met with the president Hollande, Rubio was receiving something that his campaign needed:  a good bit of news from the French president.  If Bernie Sanders went to Japan and met with the prime minister, he too got a boost for his candidacy from speaking to the guy.  Was this a violation of the law?  Of course not.

Now assume that the prime minister of Israel sent a representative to the USA in 2016 with the offer to have the representative brief any presidential candidate who wanted to hear Israel's position regarding regional issues.  If Ted Cruz met with that representative in Dallas, was that a crime?  If Hillary Clinton met with that same representative in New York, was that a crime?  Nope.  They both got something of value, but clearly no one would contend that this was a criminal action.

Now suppose that Ukraine sent an envoy to the USA to brief the presidential candidates in secret about the country's position regarding dealing with the Russian invasion of that country.  If John Kasich met with the envoy to learn the position of Ukraine, he certainly got something of value from a foreign government.  Is it a crime?  Again the answer is no.

The point is that when all that is transferred is information, there is not and, indeed, cannot be a crime committed.  Candidates are allowed to engage in free speech, even with foreigners.

On the other hand, money or something else that has a high monetary value (like bars of gold) do constitute a "thing of value" without being speech of any sort.  Federal law bans candidates from taking cash or cash equivalents from foreign governments or their representatives. 

At the meeting with the Russian lawyer, no one from the Trump organization received anything of value, not even information.  For this reason, there is no way in which the meeting could constitute a criminal act, not even in the imagination of some second rate law professor (if he were being honest).

Stretching the facts is a time honored job of lawyers and law professors.  Stretching is one thing, though, and inventing new laws is something completely different.

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