President Trump tweeted Sunday that the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer was set up to "get information on an opponent." He also claimed the meeting was "totally legal," but legal experts question whether that's true or not.
Federal campaign finance law says it's illegal for a foreign national to "directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value."
"It's illegal to ask for a contribution from a foreign government or a foreign entity or a foreign person, whether they're donating dollars to the campaign or donating something of value, which could include opposition research. And so that's the question," Hasen says.
Campaign Finance Law And Solicitation Of Foreign Contributions, Explained
"So one thing that's illegal is for the foreign entity to make the contribution. Another thing that's illegal is for a campaign to accept the contribution. Another thing that's illegal is for the campaign to solicit a contribution. And the statute has been interpreted that you cannot give substantial assistance to a foreign entity to facilitate the giving of a contribution to a campaign. There are a number of things related to foreign influence over our elections that are illegal."
How Could The Trump Tower Meeting Have Violated The Law?
"If in fact Donald Trump Jr. solicited this opposition research, which is a thing of value, that could be a civil violation for which the Federal Election Commission could impose a fine. For it to move into the criminal area, there would have to be a willful violation. So you would have to know that you were violating the campaign finance law.
"There's some debate as to whether or not opposition research could count as a 'thing of value' for purposes of the campaign finance laws."Rick Hasen
"[Donald Trump Jr.'s emails don't] tell you that he knew that it was illegal for him to accept it, and also it may not have been clear what the 'it' was at the time. There's some debate as to whether or not opposition research could count as a 'thing of value' for purposes of the campaign finance laws, and some have even argued there's some First Amendment right to receive this information. Under the First Amendment, it shouldn't be considered a 'thing of value.' I don't agree with that, but I certainly think that's the argument we're going to see going forward if it can be proven that Don Jr. has in fact willfully violated this provision."
President Trump Has Said Nothing Came From The Meeting. Does That Mean It Was Legal?
"I don't think that that would relieve anyone of criminal liability if you could otherwise prove it because it is a crime just to solicit or to substantially assist the giving of a contribution. So if someone from another country says, 'I want to have a meeting where I'm going to give your campaign $1 million dollars,' and you know that's illegal and you try to make it happen, the crime has been committed then, even if the $1 million dollars never appears in the campaign's treasury."
This segment aired on August 6, 2018.