Donald Trump Jr.’s legal problems

Soliciting information is just enough to get you in trouble.

Donald Trump Jr., son of President-elect Donald Trump waits for an elevator at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 in New York. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Donald Trump Jr., son of President-elect Donald Trump waits for an elevator at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 in New York. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Ever since news broke on Saturday that Donald Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, attended a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, details have only continued to snowball. The most recent reports indicate that Trump Jr. received an email prior to the meeting that informed him the information he would receive was connected to a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.

On Tuesday, Trump Jr. posted the email chain on Twitter. The emails confirm that he knew the meeting was with an attorney for the Russian government before he, Kushner, and Manafort attended it.

With these latest developments, Trump Jr. could be facing some serious legal ramifications. The watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint on Monday to both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Election Committee (FEC) alleging that Trump Jr. “solicited a contribution from a foreign national in violation of the Federal Election Committee Act.”


“Federal law has long prohibited any contribution from a foreign national,” said Paul S. Ryan, Vice President of policy and litigation at Common Cause. “This means anything of value, not just money or cash.”

While Common Cause, in their complaint, are taking Trump Jr. at his word that he and the other Trump campaign associates at the meeting did not accept the contribution from a foreign national, they are claiming that he did solicit the contribution.

The Committee of the Federal Register defines “solicitation” as:

“To ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly, that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.”

Common Cause said “there is proof of solicitation on behalf of Trump Jr. in that Trump Jr. was an agent of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. with authority to solicit contributions on behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.”


“Donald Trump Jr. likely violated [FEC] law by soliciting something of value in the election — opposition research regarding Hillary Clinton — from a foreign national,” said Ryan. “The point at which the violation occurred would have been any point at which Donald Trump Jr. indicated that he was interested in receiving opposition research regarding Hillary Clinton.”

The FEC has jurisdiction over civil enforcement while the DOJ presides over criminal enforcement. Common Cause attached a cover letter to their complaint to the DOJ urging Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate whether Trump Jr. solicited any campaign contribution from the Russian lawyer.

Violators of federal campaign finance laws face civil penalties in the form of monetary fines ($5,000 and up, depending on the nature of the violation). Solicitation alone is not subject to criminal penalties; those would only apply if the Trump team knowing and willfully accepted a contribution from a foreign national.