“The Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks Alliance and Campaign Finance Laws”

Bob Bauer for Just Security:

The WikiLeaks-Trump Jr. correspondence has passed through this round of commentary. I thought that these Twitter exchanges unquestionably deepened the campaign’s legal exposure to liability for aiding illicit foreign national activity in U.S. elections. It seemed to me, as I wrote, that “the facts and circumstances here are without precedent” and that “it is hard to imagine that any truly neutral analyst informed about the law would conclude otherwise.” And yet there are highly knowledgeable scholars and observers who do not apparently see things this way.

Skeptics included experts such as Paul Ryan and Rick Hasen. Ryan saw nothing especially powerful in the contacts: no evidence, as far as he was concerned of “anything of value” that the campaign solicited or received from the Russians via Wikileaks.  He believes that compared, say, to the revelation of the Trump Tower meeting,  the Trump Jr.-WikiLeaks exchanges to be “small potatoes.”Hasen has doubted that Wikileaks’ activity was even part of the legal story. He sees it as potentially a foreign media organization operating like any other news entity in receiving and distributing information from various sources, including the Russian government.

This is not to say that either Hasen or Ryan doubt that there is evidence of a campaign finance violation in the public reporting to date on the Trump campaign-Russia connection. Both have identified serious issues raised by the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior campaign officials and Kremlin emissaries. , But they hesitate to assign much independent weight to the WikiLeaks correspondence. And on that we disagree,

So what are the reasons for the disagreement?   Of course, lawyers can dispute the law and its application to a particular set of facts, as we do–all the time. But the difference in outlook in this instance is worth exploring.  This difference turns on how any new evidence is evaluated–either more or less in isolation, or in relation to others within the emerging picture of the Russian-Trump campaign alliance.

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