Looks like the leakers are back from vacation...
After a summer with only a handful of leaked “updates” about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into purported collusion between the Russian government and Trump campaign, Buzzfeed is back with its first major investigation “scoop” since it published the phony “Russia dossier” late last year.
The digital-media powerhouse is reporting that the Mueller investigation is focusing on Donald Trump Jr.’s intent when he organized the now notorious June 9 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, citing “sources familiar with the investigation.” Emails released by Don Jr. showed that he assented to the meeting after being told that Veselnitskaya would provide him with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
“The source familiar with the investigation said that prosecutors have been trying to determine exactly what information was provided and are scrutinizing Trump Jr.’s statements about the meeting.
Requesting or accepting anything of value for a presidential campaign from a foreign national violates federal election law, legal experts told BuzzFeed News.
Trump Jr.'s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not respond to calls or an email requesting comment.”
Prosecutors are reportedly trying to determine Trump Jr.’s “mindset” when he set up the meeting.
“The probe of Trump Jr. would bring the investigation right into the president’s family. Prosecutors investigating Trump’s son, the source said, are focusing specifically on his mindset when he met with the Russian attorney on June 9, and they want to learn details of the information that was offered to Trump Jr.”
As Buzzfeed explains, the entire case could hinge on whether prosecutors can prove that Trump Jr. “willfully” sought an item of value from the Russians.
“The issue for prosecutors isn’t necessarily whether the information that Trump Jr. got was true. Instead, prosecutors want to know what Trump Jr. was thinking when he got it.
While it’s unclear which law is at issue, federal law forbids campaign officials from soliciting or accepting “things of value” from foreign nationals. But for the violation to rise to a criminal matter rather than just an administrative one, it has to be a “willful” violation, lawyers explained. So to obtain an indictment against Trump Jr., prosecutors would have to establish that he acted with criminal intent, experts said.”
Luckily for Trump Jr., at least one legal expert who spoke with Buzzfeed said “it’s unclear” from Trump Jr.’s emails whether a crime had been committed.”
“In order to be prosecuted you would have to be acting willfully,” says Rick Hasen, an election law and campaign finance expert at at University of California, Irvine School of Law. Hasen says it’s unclear from Trump Jr.’s emails whether a crime had been committed, but he said the emails were enough to merit an investigation.
To bring charges against Trump Jr., prosecutors will probably try to show a pattern of behavior throughout the campaign that would suggest Trump Jr. has deliberately sought favors from foreign governments.
“Proving intent and knowledge of the law is difficult, said David A. Vicinanzo, who was the chief prosecutor of a federal campaign finance task force looking at illegal foreign contributions in the 1990s. He’s now the head of the government investigations practice at the law firm Nixon Peabody in Boston.
“To prove a willful violation, he said, prosecutors would typically ‘do a deep dive on the background of the person and all the other times they were involved in campaigns, or may have been exposed to the law. If you are someone who has been involved in campaigns, they can show circumstantially that they knew they were doing something wrong.’”
Trump Jr. initially lied to the Times about the agreed-upon purpose of the meeting, something that prosecutors might find significant, because it suggests Trump Jr. knew what he was doing was wrong.
“Trump Jr. initially said in a statement to the New York Times that the meeting with the Russian lawyer was primarily about adoptions and did not mention anything about how the meeting was set up to provide incriminating information about Clinton. Vicinanzo said prosecutors may find that significant: “It sounds like consciousness of guilt which is a form of circumstantial evidence to prove someone’s state of mind.”
A lawyer close to the White House disputed that reasoning but acknowledged that “it’s not unreasonable for the special counsel to look into this.”
If the leaks are accurate, we now know that investigators are focusing primarily on two individuals: Former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, whose house was raided by the FBI last month as investors stepped up scrutiny of his old firm’s dealings with foreign governments, and Trump Jr., the organizer of the Russia meeting.
As we await a response from the president, we wonder: How does he fit into all of this? Despite all the information that’s been leaked by investigators so far, nobody has been willing to talk about the president’s role in the collusion narrative.
Maybe there’s a good reason for that.