Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sympathy for Fredo

So, there is the legal case being pursued by Robert Mueller, and there is the information showing up in the news.  As Mara Liasson said yesterday (credit where it is due), there is no crime of "collusion," so Trump and his supporters constantly screaming that there is no evidence of same, is meaningless.  It might warm the hearts of Trump's supporters, or give the talking heads something else to chew on, but it's meaningless.

But "collusion" can mean many things, some of them illegal.  There's a reason Robert Mueller doesn't hold press conferences.  He's not going to try his case(s) in the court of public opinion.

And then there's what's happening to Donald Trump, Jr., a/ka/ Fredo, or: the guy who'd better not let anybody row him into the middle of a lake.  He is being burned alive in the public square.

Trump Jr.’s decision to meet with the Russian attorney to see what information she might have, they say, may well have violated campaign finance law. You don’t have to actually get useful help from foreigners, according to this law: The mere fact that Trump Jr. asked for information from a Russian national about Clinton, and heard her out as she attempted to describe it, might have constituted a federal crime.

“If what Donald Trump Jr. said was true ... then they should have never had the meeting in the first place,” Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation who now specializes in data crime, says.

In short? Donald Trump Jr.’s statement defending himself may well constitute a confession of guilt.

“The most important legal issue raised by these revelations actually goes to the question where collusion might be criminal under campaign finance law,” says Ryan Goodman, a former Defense Department special counsel and current editor of the legal site Just Security. “Even if the meeting didn’t produce anything ... solicitation itself is the offense.”
Let me give you a little example of this, from my one and only criminal case.  I was appointed to a Federal case because I had a license to practice in Federal court (and this pro bono work was all that license ever got me).  It was a gun possession case; our client was a convicted felon charged with illegal possession of a gun.  As the junior lawyer, I had the job of doing the legal research, and I soon discovered that "possession" didn't mean ownership, as I'd always assumed (and never looked into in law school.  I didn't practice criminal law, what did I care?).  It meant "custody and control."  In our client's case, that meant a shotgun in the package tray of a car he was driving when he was pulled over.  Our client claimed it wasn't his gun, so he thought he didn't have "possession."   In fact, he sounded a lot like this:

 Jr. is no more a lawyer than our client was.  What our client thought didn't matter to the judge.  A traffic stop became a federal crime, and we had no defense as our client went back to jail.

Possession.  He had control of the gun, since he was the only person in the car.  That was all it took.  So Donald Jr. talking to a Russian lawyer does not require that he said anything to her; he just had to be in the room.  That, of course, is not enough for news reporters, who dutifully repeat whatever the White House says next.  So what will the White House say about this?

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.

So much for the "bait and switch."  Fredo didn't go there under false pretenses, Fredo went to get something to make Daddy happy.  At least, that's what this story says.  Did Mueller need this new information to pursue a case against Fredo?  Probably not, but it doesn't hurt.  Because, to put  it bluntly:

“To the extent you’re using the resources of a foreign country to run your campaign — that’s an illegal campaign contribution,” [Nick] Akerman [an assistant special prosecutor on Watergate] explains.
So Fredo was already in deep before this e-mail story.  Just asking for what they had to help dear old Dad could be a crime, no matter how the White House spins it to NPR.  And it doesn't get any better to root around in why adoptions came up in the meeting.  The Magnitsky Act was about Putin's power, not just adoptions.  It's an almost Trump-like scenario, in fact:

Mr. Putin, though powerful, depends on the support of a small circle of powerful elites, in and out of government, who both keep him in power and help him enforce his will. In exchange, Mr. Putin sees that they are taken care of. The Magnitsky Act, by sanctioning some of those elites, sent a message that Mr. Putin might not be able to uphold his end of the bargain.

It also called into question whether lower-ranked officials could trust that they would be protected from punishment for tolerating or participating in illegal acts at the behest of Mr. Putin or his allies.

And the law embarrassed Mr. Putin by showing that his influence was not strong enough to prevent the law’s passage, despite his vigorous lobbying against it.

Revoking the law became an important foreign policy priority for Mr. Putin’s government. And he identified adoptions as an area that seemed to offer a way to force the issue.
Just as someone has identified this issue was a way to force Fredo out.  Besides, that lawyer?  Not someone you want to associate with:

....Veselnitskaya was already a key figure for the defense in one of the most notorious money-laundering scandals in recent memory, encompassing $230 million in public funds allegedly stolen from the Russians by a network of corrupt bureaucrats and routed through ironclad Swiss bank accounts into real estate sales, including some in Manhattan. And she was accused of lobbying U.S. officials for a Russian NGO that sought to overturn the Russian ban on U.S. adoptions, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Justice Department and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Somebody wants Fredo out, and they want him out very, very badly.  Maybe even some angry Russians.  Who knows?  Even spy novel scenarios don't seem too outlandish at this point.

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