Tuesday, 18 July 2017 14:02

Common Cause: Donald Trump Jr., Kushner, Manafort violated campaign financing law

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seamus ryanThere's a growing discussion and debate over whether Donald Trump Jr. and Team Trump violated federal campaign financing law when it met with the Russians at Trump Tower on June 9th. One of those people and organizations who claim that the federal campaign law was broken is Common Cause, the non-partisan watch dog organization which filed a complaint last week.  On Monday, Bayoubuzz Publisher and attorney, Stephen Sabludowsky interviewed the VP of Policy and Litigation Paul Seamus Ryan to determine the basis for the complaint and amended complaint.  Below is part one of that interview and video which picks up with the purpose of the legal action:

RYAN: So for starters what was filed was an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission, that has been described in a few place of the media is suing Donald Trump jr. we have not sued them this does not yet involve any courts whatsoever,  this is an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission that we also sent to the Department of Justice and the reason we haven't sued Donald Trump  -- there there's no ability to sue someone who violates federal campaign finance laws directly the only option for a watchdog group like Common Cause and individuals like myself when they believe that someone's broken federal campaign finance law is to urge an investigation by the Federal Election Commission and/or the Department of Justice.  So that's what we did last Monday and specifically the complaint we found Monday was against Donald Trump jr. in the Trump campaign committee alleging that they violated the federal law that prohibits any person from soliciting a contribution from a foreign national and the important part here is that the term contribution under federal law is defined mean anything of value for the purpose of influencing an election.  

So based on the news that broke more than a week ago that was our initial complaint. The facts have continued to drip drip drip as they have for more than six months with this administration though and we ended up filing an amended complaint on Thursday so I'm happy to tell you about that or we can talk about what was in the Monday complaint of last last week however you want to do this.

SABLUDOWSKY: okay okay let's start with Monday

RYAN:So Monday our allegation was that Donald Trump jr. and the Trump campaign illegally solicited a contribution from this Russian lawyer who Donald Trump jr. met with on in June of 2016. We based that complaint and what came out on weekend a day ago Sunday in the New York Times which was that Donald Trump jr. did in fact take that meeting with a Russian lawyer and went into that meeting knowing or expecting to receive something of value, opposition research, on Hillary Clinton while at that meeting.  That in our view is a really clear violation of law it was a very clear solicitation of something of value from a foreign national, that's why we filed the complaint Monday

SABLUDOWSKY: okay now some news broke and obviously the the story changed and so that's why you went ahead and filed a complaint, you said on Thursday? Is that correct? 

RYAN: Yeah so Tuesday Donald Trump jr. apparently understanding the New York Times was, had acquired, had obtained, and was about to publish to the world, the email exchanges that led up to the this meeting in June of 2016, Donald Trump jr. on Tuesday morning of last week, decided to get ahead in New York Times and publish the emails himself.  He put them on on Twitter with the statement.  Those emails made a couple of things clear that we decided warranted adding to our complaint, amending our complaint, number one a week and a couple days ago over the weekend Donald Trump jr. was saying that Paul Manafort  and Jared Kushner were involved that meaning but they didn't know anything about it.  Once Donald Trump jr. published his emails leading up to that meeting, which he did last Tuesday, included in that chain of emails was a foreword of this entire thread about the purpose of this meeting to Jared Kushner Paul Manafort--so we thought okay these two guys didn't know what this meeting was about going in so we added them to the complaint as respondents we also added Rob Goldstone who was the intermediary who set this meeting up in June of 2016.  And so three new and individuals added to our complaint last Thursday as well as a new allegation that this Rob Goldstone and Manafort and Kushner also violated another different permission but related permission of federal law, that prohibits any person from substantially assisting the solicitation of a contribution from a foreign national--so Thursday we added a couple of friends, organizations watchdog groups here in DC to our complaint as allies as complainants that would be the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy Twenty-One,   on our side of the V if you will, so  it became Common Cause Democracy Twenty-One, Campaign Legal Center versus Donald Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone  That's where the complaint sat as of Thursday but you know the facts have continued to come out in this so we're actually contemplating perhaps another amendment to the complaint in the coming days as these facts continue to unfold.

SABLUDOWSKY: Any new facts today?

RYAN: No new facts today but as a Friday night we learned through a story I believe it initially ran in the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal published something on it over the weekend which has an account from a Russian American lobbyist who was also in attendance in the meeting.  Apparently there were six people in attendance.  On Team Trump you had Donald Trump junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and on the other side you had this Russian lawyer. You also, we learned on Friday of last week, had a Russian American lobbyist and an interpreter.  This Russian American lobbyist started talking to reporters on Friday and said that he witnessed this Russian lawyer present information to Donald Trump jr. and his colleagues from the Trump campaign, that she believed would be valuable to the campaign, they had a brief discussion about it, and that she also had a plastic folder which printed supporting documentation which she according this Russian American lobbyist was there either gave to them directly or left behind he wasn't sure he and recollect clearly what happened--but now we're thinking with these additional facts from Friday perhaps we can actually allege that Donald Trump jr. and his colleagues received, actually received a contribution from national national.  And it's looking you know the facts are pointing that way now.  

SABLUDOWSKY: From that article I don't recall him saying that he actually saw the the documents Um-- am I correct about that?

RYAN:Are you referring Donald Trump jr.?

SABLUDOWSKY: No no I'm I'm talking I'm talking about the gentleman who said that that she had the Russian Attorney had documents-- did he see the documents or was she told...? 

RYAN:He indicated in any interviews I've seen that he that he examined the contents of those documents. What was in the AP story that ran in the LA Times I think it was the LA Times on Friday evening was that he either the Russian American lobbyist-- saw that she, the Russian lawyer, had "brought with her in plastic folder with printed out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee, so he's observed this transaction out.  The first eyewitness account we have of the Russian lawyer interacting with the Trump team folks and having documents in a folder present that allegedly support as you know was the opposition research supporting this info this dirt on Clinton 

SABLUDOWSKY: So since you haven't really followed lawsuits you filed a complaint so what is your your goal here

RYAN:Right now we want to see an investigation, we want to see a thorough investigation by the Federal Election Commission, we also want to see the Department of Justice and more specifically Robert Muller's investigation to look at this meeting, these allegations, these potential campaign finance violations--so the purpose of our complaints to date is to spur a thorough and complete investigation to see actually what happened at that meeting as well as all of the communications that led up to the meeting and any communications that may have followed that meeting between the Trump campaign team and Russians.

SABLUDOWSKY: What makes  you think that Mueller's office would not be looking at this giving the controversy?

RYAN: I have no reason to believe that he would not be looking at it, I have every expectation that he would be looking at it.  I've been doing this work watchdogging federal campaign finance law, state campaign finance law administration for almost twenty years and as a formal and regular course of practice when I file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission if I believe if Common Cause believes now or my prior employers believed that there was a knowing and willful violation said my complaint the Department of Justice to say, hey here's a your unknown as DOJ, these events look like violations of federal law. But I have not certainly not made any assumption that a Robert Mueller is not looking at this, i certainly expect that he is and hope he is.

SABLUDOWSKY: So as I understand what you're saying is that they would have to have made a contribution so now the violation here that we have left for our complaint on Monday that we included and repeated on Thursday as solicitation of a contribution there doesn't to be a foreign national contribution for federal law to be broken, it is illegal to ask a foreign national to make a political contribution in a u.s. election campaign thatr than of itself violates the law.  That violation I believe was clearly established by the email was well I think there was enough information the New York Times reporting last weekend to support that conclusion and the complaints we found Monday but this was all confirmed when Donald Trump jr. published himself the email exchange where he has offered something of value opposition research on Clinton and then he very eagerly responds in an email several minutes later asking for a phone call with a Russian to receive this information-- that's a solicitation in my view, of an illegal contribution from a foreign national

RYAN:  l okay focus on that in terms of whether he solicited or not one would argue of course that he didn't solicit I had mom opinion in moment theory but what would argue that he didn't solicit he got solicited oh he was an offer was made to him but that doesn't negate the fact that he responded to that offer by asking for the information I will quote from his own email this is Donald Trump Jr's email from June 3rd 2016 10:53 a.m. um is about three or four sentences in the email but the last sentence is could we do a call first next week when I'm back-- that in my opinion if I had to focus on precise words that constitute the illegal solicitation--that is asking for a phone call to receive-- but the sentences that precede that sentence they're important too--he received an email offering them opposition research on Hillary Clinton from Russia.  He responded "thanks Rob, I appreciate that I'm on the road at the moment perhaps but perhaps I can just speak to emaan first it seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it-- especially later in the summer.  Can we do a call first thing next week when I'm back--that's the solicitation of something of value from Russian sources

SABLUDOWSKY: So if you have an offer just in regular contract law if you have an offer and then say a counteroffer, you're saying that would be a solicitation contract law

RYAN: i am not a contract law expert, I am a campaign finance law expert--these provisions the the definition of solicitation has been in federal law since about 2003 and the FEC regulations the concept has been in federal law for a few decades--if you could get around federal law restrictions there are several of them around how money is solicited elections, if you could get around them those restrictions, just by having someone offer you the information first and that negates any request you make to receive that, and not just information I'm talking money usually, things of value, that would render the law meaningless.   This this term the regulations on soliciting money elections have a lot of impact in Mccain-Feingold soft money ban.  What they were targeted that there when they were enacted in 2002 it was that in the late nineties Democrats and Republicans alike, both parties, but when Bill Clinton was in the White House a lot of this going on Democratic Party--members of Congress publicly affected elected officials were asking big wealthy donors to give unlimited checks to their parts-- sometimes those checks I'm sure we're offered and then the members of Congress would say that would be great please write the check to this account.  The law was written in the way it was to be pretty broad and to encompass any time in which you have candidates or their agents or federal office holders asking for things of value, asking for big money and other valuable things in US elections



Last modified on Tuesday, 18 July 2017 14:49
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