Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”
Legal experts, Sessions say collusion between Trump and Russia would be “improper and illegal”
PolitiFact: Colluding with Russia breaks “at least four laws.” PolitiFact noted that legal experts “said there are at least four laws” that would outlaw any possible collusion between the Russian government and associates of President Donald Trump that was meant to influence the 2016 presidential election. From the May 31 fact check:
By way of brief recap, the U.S. Justice Department appointed [Robert] Mueller to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. His first task was to explore “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
“A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime,” Persily said. “And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime.”
Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals “from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate.”
Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.
“The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker,” Coates said.
Coates said discussions between a campaign and a foreigner could violate the law against fraud.
“Under that statute, it is a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to ‘deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,’ ” Coates said. “That would include fixing a fraudulent election, in my view, within the plain meaning of the statute.”
Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.
“Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption,” Douglas said. “There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law.”
Three prominent election law scholars said there are at least four laws that would prohibit the sort of activities under investigation, whether those laws mention collusion or not. [PolitiFact, 5/31/17]
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Colluding with the Russians would “absolutely” be “improper and illegal.” In testimony in front of the Senate intelligence committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed with Sen. Jim Risch’s question about whether (R-ID) it would be “improper and illegal” to collude with the Russians or any other foreign government to influence U.S. elections, saying, “Absolutely.” From Sessions’ June 13 testimony:
SEN. JIM RISCH (R-ID): Mr. Sessions, there's been all this talk about conversations, and you had some conversations with the Russians. Senators up here who are on either foreign relations, intelligence, or armed services [committees], conversations with officers of other governments or ambassadors or what have you are everyday occurrences here, multiple-time occurrences, for most of us. Is that a fair statement?
ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: I think it is, yes.
RISCH: And, indeed, if you run into one at a grocery store, you’re going to have a conversation. Is that fair?
SESSIONS: Could very well happen. Nothing improper.
RISCH: On the other hand, collusion with the Russians, or any other government, for that matter, when it comes to our elections certainly would be improper and illegal. Would that be a fair statement?
SESSIONS: Absolutely. [Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony to Senate intelligence committee, 6/13/17]
Right-wing media figures have denied that possible collusion would violate the law
Fox's Gregg Jarrett: “You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election.” Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett claimed, “You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election,” also saying that it “is not a crime.” In a FoxNews.com op-ed, Jarrett also wrote that “colluding with Russia is not, under America’s criminal codes, a crime.” From the May 30 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:
JON SCOTT (HOST): There's some discussion about something called the Logan Act, and the question is out there as to and whether or not Jared Kushner violated the Logan Act.
GREGG JARRETT: Yeah, the Logan Act says private citizens can't interfere in diplomatic disputes. The Logan Act can't possibly apply under the law because it’s been dormant for two centuries. You cannot use a law that is dormant for two centuries. That's a violation of the law. And besides, he wasn't acting as a private citizen, as the law demands. He was acting as a government official in the incoming administration. All administrations, including President Obama, make contact with foreign governments before the president is sworn in.
SCOTT: So one of the big questions out there is did Jared Kushner -- did he essentially lie? Did he violate the law when he was filling out his security clearance form?
JARRETT: Well, it is a crime to deceive the government in filling out your security clearance form, although it's almost never prosecuted. Why? Because it's difficult to show intent of knowingly trying to deceive the federal government. And besides, in this particular case, he amended it just a month later, in January, before any of this became public. If he was really trying to deceive, he wouldn't have done that. So, absolutely not. He’d never be prosecuted for something like that. That would be unheard of.
SCOTT: So this story could end with a big fat thud is what you're suggesting?
JARRETT: It could. I mean, look, and I've said it before and I'll say it again: Collusion is not a crime. Only in antitrust law. You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election. There’s no such statute. [Fox News, Happening Now, 5/30/17; FoxNews.com, 5/23/17]
Fox's Brit Hume: Even if the Trump campaign did collude with Russia, “it’s not a crime.” Fox host Brit Hume suggested that while colluding with a foreign government to influence an election “obviously would be alarming and highly inappropriate, … it’s not a crime.” From the June 25 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday:
BRIT HUME (HOST): It’s worth noting, I think, that this investigation has never been officially described as anything other than a counterintelligence investigation, which is to say that its purpose was to find out the extent of the Russians’ attempts to interfere in the election and to influence the election. And it was not therefore a criminal investigation, and has never been described as a criminal investigation. Do we all now believe that it has now become a criminal investigation?
BOB WOODWARD: Well, we reported in The Washington Post that it is, and these investigations, as you well know, they mushroom, they grow --
HUME: Well they can.
WOODWARD: Well, they almost inevitably do.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN: We’ve heard about the grand jury in Alexandria that has been called. So they are looking into criminal --
HUME: But what crime? Can anybody identify the crime? Collusion, while it obviously would be alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign to -- of which there’s no evidence, by the way, of colluding with the Russians -- it's not a crime. So are we talking about here the president's firing of [former FBI Director James] Comey being an obstruction of justice? And they got a grand jury on that? Is that was this is about? [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 6/25/17]
Fox’s Sean Hannity: If the Trump campaign communicated with and asked Russia to release hacked emails, “is that a crime?” Fox host Sean Hannity said that if Trump associates had communicated with the Russians and asked them to released hacked emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton , “is that a crime?” From the June 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I never understood it anyway. What was the collusion? That maybe somebody in the Trump campaign talked to somebody in Russia because Russia supposedly had the information that Hillary Clinton had destroyed on her server when she committed a felony and tried to cover up her crimes? And that they might say as a Trump campaign representative, “Wow, you have that? Tell the American people the truth. Let them see it themselves, release it.” Is that a crime, to say “release it” ? To show the truth? To show damaging information? [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 6/23/17]
Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: If Trump’s team did collude with Russia, “what is the crime?” Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera asked “what is the crime” if Trump associates did collude with Russians. From the May 10 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
GERALDO RIVERA: Let me say something revolutionary here. Wait a second, Jay. This is -- this, I think, is very important. Going back to the original sin, what is the allegation here? The allegation that some people in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. I submit to you, and I just had a conversation with Judge Napolitano about this. I've been scratching my head about this for months. What is the crime? If the Russian KGB chief is talking to Paul Manafort and the chief says, “You know, I've got this dirt here that says Hillary Clinton was this or that,” and Paul Manafort says, “Next Wednesday, why don't you release that, that'd be great for us.” That’s not -- I don't know that that's a crime at all. What's the crime? [Fox News, Hannity, 5/10/17]
Right-wing columnist Ronald Kessler: “There’s no violation of the law if, in fact, the campaign colluded with Russia.” Discredited right-wing columnist Ronald Kessler during the May 21 edition of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS asserted that “there's no violation of law if, in fact, the campaign colluded with Russia, whatever that means.” [CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, 5/21/17; Media Matters, 6/31/14]
Conservative author Michael Reagan: “Collusion is not breaking the law.” Conservative author Michael Reagan told CNN’s Don Lemon that “collusion is not breaking the law.” When Lemon suggested that collusion with the Russians might be “treasonous,” Reagan repeatedly asked “what law” would it have broken. From the May 31 edition of CNN’s CNN Tonight:
MICHAEL REAGAN: Collusion is not breaking the law. Just like Kennedy, he didn’t break the law. It was a political move that he made. Just like Jimmy Carter, it was political. It wasn’t breaking the law.
DON LEMON (HOST): Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, collusion is not breaking the law?
REAGAN: Not in this case. No it’s not collusion. Collusion is not breaking the law. What law did they break?
LEMON: You mean if the Trump folks colluded with the Russians, that’s not breaking the law to influence the election?
REAGAN: What law?
LEMON: Isn’t that treasonous to do that?
REAGAN: What law? No. What law? [CNN, CNN Tonight, 5/31/17]