Yesterday CNN reported:
Cohen’s claim would contradict repeated denials by Trump, Donald Trump Jr., their lawyers and other administration officials who have said that the President knew nothing about the Trump Tower meeting until he was approached about it by The New York Times in July 2017.
In this den of liars, I have no idea whom to believe, and I think (as I’ve told reporters
about other aspects
of alleged campaign finance violations involving Trump) that any potential for criminal campaign finance charges would depend upon some documentary or physical evidence corroborating allegations that have been made.
But suppose it is true that Trump knew of the meeting in advance. Would that violate campaign finance laws?
I have a hard time believing that it would by itself, but there is the potential for liability depending upon what he knew and what he said.
As I’ve discussed in relation to Don. Jr. and the Trump Tower meeting, it is illegal for a campaign (or an agent of a campaign) to solicit, facilitate the giving
, or accept any thing of value
from a foreign entity. I believe
that opposition research would count as a thing of value
(though others, like Eugene Volokh, have expressed some skepticism). For there to be criminal liability, violation of these rules would have to be wilful (likely you’d have to know it is illegal but acted anyway).
So, if the President knew there was a meeting with Russians but knew nothing about its content, there would be no violation. If he knew there was a meeting with Russians where they were discussing providing opposition research on Clinton to the campaign, and Trump encouraged it, knowing it would be a campaign finance violation, there could be criminal liability. And of course there are lots of in-between scenarios (such as Trump learning about the offer of oppo after the fact and doing nothing one way or the other).
There may be political ramifications here about a presidential candidate agreeing to meet with agents of a foreign adversary during the election potentially where they offered dirt on his opponent, but it is too early given what is known publicly to conclude that there’s a campaign finance violation here. (I’ve said the same thing about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and in those cases, there is the further issue whether the spending was for the campaign, or would have been done anyway to protect Trump’s reputation.) And finally, we don’t know what we don’t know, and what Mueller and the SDNY know.