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Schiff’s Whistleblower and the Mueller Report

The whistleblower complaint against President Trump alleges acts very similar to those examined by the Mueller Report which occurred during the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between the Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, Donald Trump, Jr., and several other participants.  In both episodes there was the possibility of a foreign government giving Trump opposition research information relevant to his campaign opponent.

The Mueller Report examined the June 9, 2016, meeting in great detail.  Its conclusion was that there was no violation of campaign finance laws.  The same conclusion should apply to Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.  The Report said:

Accordingly, taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr. or other campaign officials for the events culminating in the June 9 meeting.

In particular, on the question of whether opposition research provided by a foreign government constituted a thing-of-value, the Muller Report said:

… no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law. Such an interpretation could have implications beyond the foreign-source ban, see 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a) (imposing monetary limits on campaign contributions), and raise First Amendment questions. Those questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts. It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.

The Democrats working on impeachment refuse to mention the Mueller Report, although it is clearly relevant to their investigations.  Since the factual situations are so similar it is important to review the Mueller Report’s extensive analysis of the June 9, 2016, meeting between Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya.  The Democrats would no doubt argue that they are different because Trump threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine, but in fact, Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor.”  A favor is not something you pay for.  It is something done at the other party’s discretion, and need not be done at all.  Zelensky did not do anything in response to Trump’s request, and Trump did not withhold the aid.  In that sense it was like the June 9 meeting in that nothing happened with regard to providing opposition research.

Because it is so relevant, following is the complete text from the Mueller Report of its legal analysis of the June 9 meeting.

Begin quote:

  1. Campaign Finance

Several areas ofthe Office’s investigation involved efforts or offers by foreign nationals to provide negative information about candidate Clinton to the Trump Campaign or to distribute that information to the public, to the anticipated benefit of the Campaign. As explained below, the Office considered whether two of those efforts in particular- the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump

Tower Harm to Ongoing Matter —:-eonstituted prosecutable violations of the campaign-finance laws. The Office determined that the evidence was not sufficient to charge either incident as a criminal violation.

  1. Overview Of Governing Law

“[T]he United States has a compelling interest… in limiting the participation of foreign citizens in activities of democratic self-government, and in thereby preventing foreign influence over the U.S. political process.” Bluman v. FEC, 800 F. Supp. 2d 281, 288 (D.D.C. 2011) (Kavanaugh, J., for three-judge court), ajf’d, 565 U.S. 1104 (2012). To that end, federal campaign- finance law broadly prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions, donations, expenditures, or other disbursements in connection with federal, state, or local candidate elections, and prohibits anyone from soliciting, accepting, or receiving such contributions or donations. As relevant here, foreign nationals may not make- and no one may “solicit,’ accept, or receive” from them- ” a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” or “an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election.” 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(l)(A), (a)(2).1283 The term “contribution,” which is used throughout the campaign-finance law, “includes” “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(i). It excludes, among other things, “the value of [volunteer] services.” 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(B)(i).

Foreign nationals are also barred from making “an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication.” 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(l)(C). The term “expenditure” “includes” “any purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift of money or anything of value, made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” 52 U.S.C. §,30101(9)(A)(i). It excludes, among other things, news stories and non-partisan get-out-the-vote activities. 52 U.S.C. § 3010I(9)(B)(i)-(ii). An “independent expenditure” is an expenditure “expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate” and made independently ofthe campaign. 52 U.S.C. § 30101(17). An “electioneering communication” is a broadcast communication that “refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office” and is made within specified time periods and targeted at the relevant electorate. 52 u.s.c. § 30104(f)(3).

The statute defines “foreign national” by reference to FARA and the Immigration and Nationality Act, with minor modification. 52 U.S.C. § 30121(b) (cross-referencing 22 U.S.C. § 61 l(b)(l)-(3) and 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(20), (22)). That definition yields five, sometimes- overlapping categories of foreign nationals, which include all of the individuals and entities relevant for present purposes-namely, foreign governments and political parties, individuals

outside of the U.S. who are not legal permanent residents, and certain non-U.S. entities located outside of the U.S. ·

A and willful[]” violation involving an aggregate of $25,000 or more in a calendar year is a felony. 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d)(l)(A)(i); see Bluman, 800 F. Supp. 2d at 292 (noting that a willful violation will require some “proofofthe defendant’s knowledge ofthe law”); United States v. Danielczyk, 917 F. Supp. 2d 573, 577 (E.D. Va. 2013) (applying willfulness standard drawn from Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 191-92 (1998)); see also Wagner v. FEC, 793 F.3d 1, 19 n.23 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (en bane) (same). A “knowing[] and willful[]” violation involving an aggregate of $2,000 or more in a calendar year, but less than $25,000, is a misdemeanor. 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d)(l)(A)(ii).

  1. Application to June 9 Trump Tower Meeting

The Office considered whether to charge Trump Campaign officials with crimes in connection with the June 9 meeting described in Volume I, Section IV.A.5, supra. The Office concluded that, in light of the government’s substantial burden of proof on issues of intent (“knowing” and “willful”), and the difficulty of establishing the value ofthe offered information, criminal charges would not meet the Justice Manual standard that “the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.” Justice Manual§ 9-27.220.

In brief, the key facts are that, on June 3, 2016, Robert Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr., to pass along from Emin and Aras Agalarov an “offer” from Russia’s “Crown prosecutor” to “the Trump campaign” of”official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to [Trump Jr.’s] father.” The email described this as “very high level and sensitive information” that is “part of Russia and its government’s support to Mr. Trump-helped along by Aras and Emin.” Trump Jr. responded: “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov had follow-up conversations and, within days, scheduled a meeting with Russian representatives that was attended by Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner. The communications setting up the meeting and the attendance by high-level Campaign representatives support an inference that the Campaign anticipated receiving derogatory documents and information from official Russian sources that could assist candidate Trump’s electoral prospects.

This series of events could implicate the federal election-law ban on contributions and donations by foreign nationals ,52U.S.C.§3012l(a)(l)(A). Specifically,Goldstone passed along an offer purportedly from a Russian government official to provide “official documents and information” to the Trump Campaign for the purposes of influencing the presidential election. Trump Jr. appears to have accepted that offer and to have arranged a meeting to receive those materials. Documentary evidence in the form of email chains supports the inference that Kushner and Manafort were aware ofthat purpose and attended the June 9 meeting anticipating the receipt of helpful information to the Campaign from Russian sources.

The Office considered whether this evidence would establish a conspiracy to violate the foreign contributions ban, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 ; the solicitation of an illegal foreign- source contribution; or the acceptance or receipt of “an express or implied promise to make a [foreign-source] contribution,” both in violation of 52 U.S.C. § 3012l(a)(l)(A), (a)(2). There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a “thing of value” within the meaning ofthese provisions, but the Office determined that the government would not be likely to obtain and sustain a conviction for two other reasons: first, the Office did not obtain admissible evidence likely to meet the government’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals acted “willfully,” i.e., with general knowledge of the illegality of their conduct; and, second, the government would likely encounter difficulty in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of the promised information exceeded the threshold for a criminal violation, see 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d)(l)(A)(i).

 

  1. Thing-of Value Element

A threshold legal question is whether providing to a campaign “documents and information” of the type involved here would constitute a prohibited campaign contribution. The foreign contribution ban is not limited to contributions of money. It expressly prohibits “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value.” 52 U.S.C. § 3012l(a)(l)(A), (a)(2) (emphasis added). And the term “contribution” is defined throughout the campaign-finance laws to “include[]” “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything ofvalue.” 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(i) (emphasis added).

The phrases “thing of value” and “anything of value” are broad and inclusive enough to encompass at least some forms of valuable information. Throughout the United States Code, these phrases serve as”term[s] of art “that are construed”broad[ly].” United States v. Nilsen, 967F.2d 539, 542 (11th Cir. 1992) (per curiam) (“thing of value” includes “both tangibles and intangibles”); see also, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §§ 20l(b)(l), 666(a)(2) (bribery statutes); id. § 641 (theft of government property). For example, the term “thing of value” encompasses law enforcement reports that would reveal the identity of informants, United States v. Girard, 601 F.2d 69, 71 (2d Cir. 1979); classified materials, United States v. Fowler, 932 F.2d 306, 310 (4th Cir. 1991); confidential information about a competitive bid, United States v. Matzkin, 14 F .3d 1014, I 020 (4th Cir. 1994); secret grand jury information, United States v. Jeter, 775 F.2d 670, 680 (6th Cir. 1985); and information about a witness’s whereabouts, United States v. Sheker, 618 F.2d 607, 609 (9th Cir.

1980) (per curiam). And in the public corruption context, ” ‘ thing of value’ is defined broadly to include the value which the defendant subjectively attaches to the items received.” United States v. Renzi, 769 F.3d 731,744 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations recognize the value to a campaign of at least some forms of information, stating that the term “anything of value” includes “the provision of any goods or services without charge,” such as “membership lists” and “mailing lists.” 11 C.F.R. § 100.52(d)(l). The FEC has concluded that the phrase includes a state-by-state list of activists. See Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. FEC, 475 F.3d 337, 338 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (describing the FEC’s findings). Likewise, polling data provided to a campaign constitutes a “contribution.” FEC Advisory Opinion 1990-12 (Strub), 1990 WL 153454 (citing 11 C.F.R. § 106.4(6)). And in the specific context of the foreign-contributions ban, the FEC has concluded that “election materials used in previous Canadian campaigns,” including “flyers, advertisements, door hangers, tri-folds, signs, and other printed material,” constitute “anything of value,” even though “the value ofthese materials may be nominal or difficult to ascertain.” FEC Advisory Opinion 2007-22 (Hurysz), 2007 WL 5172375, at *5.

These authorities would support the view that candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply. A campaign can be assisted not only by the provision of funds, but also by the provision of derogatory information about an opponent. Political campaigns frequently conduct and pay for opposition research. A foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value. At the same time, no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law. Such an interpretation could have implications beyond the foreign-source ban, see 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a) (imposing monetary limits on campaign contributions), and raise First Amendment questions. Those questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts. It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.

  1. Willfulness

Even assuming that the promised “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” constitute a “thing of value” under campaign-finance law, the government would encounter other challenges in seeking to obtain and sustain a conviction. Most significantly, the government has not obtained admissible evidence that is likely to establish the scienter requirement beyond a reasonable doubt. To prove that a defendant acted “knowingly and willfully,” the government would have to show that the defendant had general knowledge that his conduct was unlawful. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses 123 (8th ed. Dec. 2017) (“Election Offenses”); see Bluman, 800 F. Supp. 2d at 292 (noting that a willful violation requires “proof of the defendant’s knowledge of the law”); Danielczyk, 917 F. Supp. 2d at 577 (“knowledge of general unlawfulness”). “This standard creates an elevated scienter element requiring, at the very least, that application ofthe law to the facts in question be fairly clear. When there is substantial doubt concerning whether the law applies to the facts of a particular matter, the offender is more likely to have an intent defense.” Election Offenses 123. ·

On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful. The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context. The government does not have strong evidence of surreptitious behavior or effo11s at concealment at the time of the June 9 meeting. While the government has evidence of later efforts to prevent disclosure of the nature of the June 9 meeting that could circumstantially provide support for a showing of scienter, see Volume II, Section II.G, infra, that concealment occurred more than a year later, involved individuals who did not attend the June 9 meeting, and may reflect an intention to avoid political consequences rather than any prior knowledge of illegality. Additionally,in light of the unresolved legal questions about whether giving “documents and information” of the sort offered here constitutes a campaign contribution, Trump Jr. could mount a factual defense that he did not believe his response to the offer and the June 9 meeting itself violated the law. Given his less direct involvement in arranging the June 9 meeting, Kushner could likely mount a similar defense. And, while Manafort is experienced with political campaigns, the Office has not developed evidence showing that he had relevant knowledge ofthese legal issues.

iii. Difficulties in Valuing Promised Information

The Office would also encounter difficulty proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of the promised documents and information exceeds the $2,000 threshold for a criminal violation, as well as the $25,000 threshold for felony punishment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d)(l). The type of evidence commonly used to establish the value of non-monetary contributions-such as pricing the contribution on a commercial market or determining the upstream acquisition cost or the cost of distribution-would likely be unavailable or ineffective in this factual setting. Although damaging opposition research is surely valuable to a campaign, it appears that the information ultimately delivered in the meeting was not valuable. And while value in a conspiracy may well be measured by what the participants expected to receive at the time of the agreement, see, e.g., United States v. Tombrello, 666 F.2d 485, 489 (11th Cir. 1982), Goldstone’s description of the offered material here was quite general. His suggestion of the information’s value-i.e., that it would “incriminate Hillary” and “would be very useful to [Trump Jr.’s] father”-w as non- specific and may have been understood as being of uncertain worth or reliability, given Goldstone’s lack of direct access to the original source. The uncertainty over what would be delivered could be reflected in Trump Jr.’s response (“if it’s what you say I love it”) (emphasis added).

Accordingly, taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr. or other campaign officials for the events culminating in the June 9 meeting.

Mueller 183-188

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What’s Up with American Ambassadors to Canada?

Trump is switching from one strange woman to another as ambassador to Canada.  Don’t we have somebody more professional to send?  In the process we are sending an ambassador who did a questionable job in Canada to be the new US ambassador to the UN.

The outgoing US ambassador to Canada, Kelly Knight Craft, was absent from Canada during much of her tenure.  Politico reports that at her confirmation hearings for the UN job, the Democrats displayed a chart showing that she had been outside of her post in Canada for over 300 days, about half of her tenure in Canada.  Craft’s main qualification for the Canada post seems to be that she is married to Kentucky coal billionaire Joe Craft, a big political donor.  Globalnews reported that in 2016 she gave $265,400 to Trump’s campaign.   Her husband gave $2 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC in 2016 and hundreds of thousands to other super PACs in the last few years.

The incoming US ambassador to Canada is another political donor, Aldona Wos from North Carolina. The Toronto Globe and Mail says she is a retired physician and philanthropist who was born in Poland and whose father was survived the Holocaust.  She served on the board of the US Holocaust Memorial and as Ambassador to Estonia from 2004 50 2006.  Her husband is technology executive Louis DeJoy.  The Charlotte Business Journal says he has a long history as a Republican supporter and contributor and has been raising money for Charlotte to serve as the site of the Republican National Convention in 2020.

On its HBO TV show, Axios reported on how badly the Trump administration had handled vetting for senior administration officials.  According to the show, Chris Christie had prepared many briefing books with potential candidates for all the top jobs, but Trump fired Christie and threw out his work, probably because Christie had prosecuted Jared Kushner’s father and put him in jail.  Junior staffers and the Republican National Committee then took over the job of vetting candidates, and according the Axios (and the rapid turnover of senior officials), they did a poor job.  The high number of “acting” officials in the Trump administration indicates that Trump is still having a hard time finding qualified personnel for important jobs.

Hard Times at the State Deparment

I listened to part of the webinar by outgoing AFSA president Barbara Stephenson.  She said the temporary draw-down at the embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made permanent. Other embassies are also being reduced.  The Iraq reduction is something like 75%.  This means that many positions will not be filled, and that many officers will not be going to the posts they were assigned to.  In addition, it sounds like the administration has requested further budget reductions for the State Department.  Even after the many senior Foreign Service officers who left because of polity disagreements under Secretary Tillerson, there still many senior officers who do not have assignments because of the staff reductions at many embassies.

I would guess that at least part of the problem is that the Republican administration views the career Foreign Service as too liberal.  There is probably some truth to that perception.  But while many officers may personally lean Democratic, they do let their personal politics enter into their work representing the US overseas, just as military officers perform their duties without reference to their personal politics.  Within the US government, Foreign Service officers will argue for policies that they believe are best of the US, which might mean arguing against some conservative policy proposals, but once the internal debates are over, the officers will soldier on and argue for the policies that have been agreed on when they represent the US to foreign governments.

It’s sad that after the Iraq war, the Defense Department under Sec. Robert Gates argued for more State Department officers in Iraq.  He pointed out that there were fewer FSOs than there were members of military bands.  He argued that often diplomacy was better than military force.  Now, we don’t even have a Secretary of Defense.

It’s hard to replace senior Foreign Service officers because much of their value comes from years of serving in countries that are of concern to US foreign policy.  They know the language, the culture, and often many of the senior officials running the country.  When they leave with their 20 or 30 years of knowledge and experience, it will take 20 or 30 years to replace them.