President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that he would happily collude with foreign governments to help him win the 2020 election. Now, House Democrats are preparing legislation that would make that illegal.
It is already illegal under existing campaign finance law for a U.S. political campaign to accept anything of value from a foreign national or foreign government. This new bill, if passed, would ensure that the transfer of political information from a foreign government to a campaign counts as a “thing of value.”
The new legislation is part of a push by House Democrats to respond to the allegations in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that the president welcomed election support from the Russian government during the 2016 campaign and then may have obstructed justice to block the investigation. Democrats will also reintroduce a slightly different version of the Duty to Report Act called the Anti-Collusion Act, which would require political campaigns to report offers of political information from foreign governments to the FBI.
Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday that he would take information on his political opponents from a foreign government and would not report it to the FBI.
“If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘We have information on your opponent’ ― oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said.
“I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do,” Trump added. “Oh, give me a break ― life doesn’t work that way.”
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son and a campaign adviser, was offered a meeting with a Russian lawyer working on behalf of the “Crown prosecutor of Russia.” The offer promised “high level and sensitive information” that “would incriminate” his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. said in accepting the meeting.
In the end, the lawyer provided no significant information to the Trump campaign, according to the Mueller report. The person who set up the meeting, British publicist Rob Goldstone, says he inflated the importance of the information (“high level and sensitive information”) in order to get Trump Jr.’s attention.
It still remains illegal to solicit or accept anything of value to a political campaign from a foreign national or government. “It seems obvious that ‘I love it’ constitutes solicitation in this instance,” Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine election law professor, argued in Slate.
Yet Mueller declined to prosecute Trump Jr. for his solicitation or receipt of information provided by the foreign national, who may or may not have been working on behalf of the Russian government.
Trump Jr. refused to be interviewed by the special counsel’s office, which deprived Mueller of knowing whether he committed a “knowing and willful” violation of campaign finance law, which is necessary for the prosecution of such laws. Mueller also insisted that he could not determine a value for the information provided and therefore could not properly determine if it met the threshold for an illegal “thing of value.” Mueller also raised First Amendment concerns ― which legal scholars have called dubious ― that prosecuting this one case could provoke threats to free speech.
The new law to be proposed by House Democrats is specifically designed to plug the main hole that prevented Mueller from charging Trump Jr. ― that he could not determine the value of the offered information. The legislation will state that any knowing and willful solicitation or receipt of information, no matter the value, would be illegal.