Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) wants to know whether the Department of Justice informed the Federal Election Commission when it reviewed a referral based on a whistleblower’s complaint that President Donald Trump may have violated campaign finance laws by pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into his political rivals.
In a letter to the three FEC commissioners sent Wednesday, Klobuchar, a presidential candidate, asked whether the Department of Justice violated a 42-year-old agreement to share information about campaign finance-related legal matters with the FEC after it determined that Trump had not broken the law.
The Justice Department’s failure to inform the FEC is potentially a “third cover-up” of Trump’s abuse of power after he pressured Zelensky on July 25 to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential candidate, Georgetown Law School professors Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer argued in a New York Times op-ed on Wednesday. The first two cover-ups, they argue, were the efforts to hide a record of the phone conversation on a code-word classified server and then the refusal of the acting director of national intelligence to send the whistleblower’s complaint to congressional intelligence committees as required by law.
Klobuchar, as the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections, wants to know whether the Justice Department ever informed the FEC that it had reviewed a campaign finance legal matter regarding the president and declined to prosecute it and whether the FEC agreed with the DOJ’s determination that Trump’s actions did not violate the law.
The agreement between the Justice Department and the FEC to share information about campaign finance legal matters dates to 1978. A memo outlining it states that DOJ must inform the FEC of a “probable violation” or if it determines a complaint “does not amount to a significant and substantial knowing and willful violation.” In either of these cases, “the department will refer the matter to the commission as promptly as possible.” In the past, the Justice Department has informed the FEC at the end of a prosecution or once a decision was made to not bring charges. The FEC still considers this agreement to be active.
The public might have learned earlier about the complaint and Trump’s alleged abuse of power had the Justice Department disclosed its findings to the FEC after it declined to prosecute. Additionally, the FEC could investigate the matter itself and has the ability to issue fines for civil violations of campaign finance law.
The Justice Department’s finding absolving the president of wrongdoing was revealed only after House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) pressed the Trump administration to disclose a whistleblower complaint that it was withholding from his committee. The complaint said that Trump had used his office to pressure the Ukrainian president in the July 25 call to investigate Biden.
The acting director of national intelligence referred the allegation that Trump solicited a thing of value from a foreign government to the Justice Department after the intelligence community’s inspector general alerted him to it in the whistleblower’s complaint. DOJ dismissed this charge against the president because it could not put a value on a foreign government opening an investigation into Trump’s domestic political rival.
Klobuchar has asked the committee to respond by Oct. 9.