Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference is continuing apace. The investigation has divided politicians and the citizenry at large. A popular objection to the investigation is advanced on legal grounds. Defenders of the president say there is no law against collusion. Trump supporters try to blunt the charge of collusion by saying the word collusion is an empty legal concept. Donald Trump often sends tweets that say there was no collusion. Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, said, “Collusion in and of itself, there’s no crime of collusion.” How can we make any headway in this debate with so many interlocutors?
This blog series is devoted to bringing clarity to the legal terms of the investigation.
The online version of Black’s Law Dictionary defines “collusion” as, “A deceitful agreement or compact between two or more persons, for the one party to bring an action against the other for some evil purpose, as to defraud a third party of his right….”
This definition is only partially helpful. The scope of Mueller’s investigation is much broader than this anemic definition.
Although “collusion” is a word that has been thrown around a lot lately, it doesn’t have any specific legal meaning. What matters legally is whether someone in the Trump campaign joined a conspiracy, aided and abetted a crime, or actively concealed a crime. None of these legal concepts is complicated. A conspiracy is just a legal term for an agreement to commit a crime. You aid and abet a crime if you know about criminal activity and actively try to make it succeed. There is also a crime called “misprision of felony” that means you know that a felony has been committed and you actively work to conceal the crime.
Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, says a relevant law is 52 U.S.C. 30121, which regulates campaign contributions. The law states:
52 U.S. Code § 30121 – Contributions and donations by foreign nationals
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.
It is possible that Donald Trump Jr. became liable under this law when he met with Russians to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School, thinks it is unclear whether Trump Jr. committed a crime in this case. Robert Bauer, a partner at Perkins Coie and professor at New York University Law School, argues Trump Jr. is probably legally liable under this statue.