Trump Now Faces Legal Peril Bigger Than Collusion and Obstruction

The biggest news of the day is Trump’s admission on twitter that his campaign attempted to collude with Russia to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. This is being treated appropriately as the incredible bombshell that it is, because it means that his campaign–including his own son, whom he has remarkably thrown under the bus–was guilty of a clear cut crime. It is illegal accept a donation of anything of monetary value (including campaign oppo material) from foreign sources. It is illegal to conspire with others to commit such a violation. And it is illegal to lie about having done so and obstruct justice in response to a federal investigation over the matter. We also know that despite his protestations, Trump almost certainly did know about the meeting in question, and was directly responsible for crafting a number of lies about it afterward. Which in turn makes Trump, his family and his immediate advisers guilty of collusion, conspiracy and obstruction. End of story.

But remarkably, it gets much worse for the president and his team. That’s not because of Trump’s most recent admission, but because of the lie Trump told before about the meeting. The lie about “adoptions.”

You will recall that Trump officials first tried to explain away the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian spies as being about “adoptions.” This is, of course, as we now all know a reference to the sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act and Vladimir Putin’s reaction to them. To recap, in response to the brutal murder of a lawyer investigating a massive theft by Putin’s oligarchs, the United States passed harsh sanctions on Russia’s kleptocrats, freezing many of their assets held in the west. This has been a constant source of frustration to Putin’s regime, and reversing the Magnitsky Act has been the focal point of his negotiations with American leaders. One of the actions Putin took in response to the sanctions was to bar the adoption of Russian children by American foster parents.

So the meeting about “adoptions” is really about the Magnitsky Act. And now we know from Trump’s own twitter fingers that it was also about “dirt” on the Clinton campaign.

Now, here’s the thing. If the Trump Tower meeting had just been about the Magnitsky Act, it would be an untoward and unethical but not a significant violation. A foreign government can try to lobby a electoral campaign if it wants. If the Trump Tower meeting had just been about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, it would have been (and was) a serious campaign finance violation, albeit one that the nation might or might not forgive from a fly-by-night rookie campaign team if it had produced no real results. Though even then, of course, Paul Manafort was no rookie, and the conspiracy to break campaign finance laws and the lies to cover it up are very serious matters.

But it’s the combination of the two that is most damning. The one interesting hitch of the campaign finance violation argument is that the Russians did not in fact deliver the stolen campaign documents directly to the Trump campaign. As we know, the Russians instead released the material to Wikileaks, who proceeded to drop it at a time and in a fashion most advantageous to the Trump campaign.

Why would the Russians do this if no deal had in fact been struck with Trump? Why, when Trump asked (and later claimed he was joking) if Russia could find Hillary Clinton’s emails, did the Russians proceed to attempt to hack her system that very night if there was no quid pro quo?

We can now trace a direct line from Trump’s own admitted statements not only to a conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations in collusion with Russia and a conspiracy to obstruct justice over them, but to a much greater crime: a conspiracy to defraud the United States in the service of a hostile foreign power, a promise to give away foreign policy concessions and alleviate sanctions on a foreign mafia in exchange for the release of stolen campaign materials of untold but enormous value.

The Russians requested a meeting with the Trump campaign to give away dirt on Clinton. The Trump campaign agreed. They talked about the Magnitsky Act. They talked about unspecified dirt they had on Clinton. It is virtually certain a quid pro quo was offered. Sometime later the Russians handed the “dirt” to Wikileaks. Trump associates including Roger Stone knew eerily in advance when Wikileaks would be releasing the material. Russian hackers went into action on Trump’s command. And, of course, Trump has refused to enforce congressional sanctions on Russia, ignored calls to protect our elections since, and prostrated himself obsequiously before Putin in every way possible.

All of this bespeaks something far worse than conspiracy and obstruction over a campaign finance violation. This is a corrupt conspiracy to defraud and sell out the United States. And Trump has all but admitted to it in public.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.