Donald Trump Jr
Donald Trump Jr

What you need to know about Donald Trump Jr's emails

ACCUSATIONS of treason, collusion and conspiracy are flying around Washington after Donald Trump Jr's email release this week.

But what exactly is the legal problem and what is politicised spin?

Here's what you need to know about the tweet that got the world talking.

THE EMAILS

On Tuesday, Donald Junior released the full text of an email chain that showed him being offered "private and confidential" information "that would incriminate Hillary" and "be very useful to your father".

The email from British publicist Rob Goldstone said the info was "high level and sensitive but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump". Within 20 minutes, Trump Jr replied saying: "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT?

Political campaign teams often seek out damaging information on their opponents, however it becomes problematic when a foreign government is involved.

The US Law on contributions and donations from foreign nationals states: A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

It also states that "Solicitation, acceptance, or receipt of contributions and donations from foreign nationals" is a problem.

This leaves Trump Jr with two main problems. The first is that the email clearly states the information comes from a government source and is confidential. The second is that he replied, "I love it".

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS SAY?

It's important to note that "collusion" is not illegal, according to legal experts. Instead, the focus is on "conspiracy" to break rules on campaign finance.

Nevertheless, legal opinion is divided on what these emails actually mean.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told The New York Times that the emails were not enough for Donald Jr to be charged with conspiracy, however it did contribute to a broader narrative.

"What this email string establishes is that Don Jr was aware that the Russian government wanted to help the Trump campaign and he welcomed support from the Russian government," Mr. Mariotti said.

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Jacobovitz, who represented White House officials during the investigation of former president Bill Clinton, said Trump Jr and others involved in the meeting were "exposed to the conspiracy to commit election fraud".

Federal Election Commission lawyer Larry Noble said the emails "put meat on the bones" of a possible violation of the financing law as they gave a "clear indication" something was being sought.

However others believe it is not that simple. Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said it would be an "absurdist interpretation" to consider it a crime.

"The law does not cover talking politics," he said. "If it did, pretty much every political meeting would be considered an in-kind contribution that needs to be reported."

Bradley A Smith, a former Republican Federal Election Commission member, also says "a meeting does not a conspiracy make".

He said opposition research might have value: "But if someone simply comes to the campaign and says, 'I have some information you might find interesting', I don't think we've had a solicitation by the candidate or campaign."

Mr Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow also said "there is no illegality" in the meeting.

The President himself has said he did not know anything about it and has praised his son as an "open" person who is subject to a "witch hunt".

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Campaigners agree it is standard practice to find out damaging information about opponents, however they're also careful about handling that which could have been obtained illegally.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham said he would expect someone to "tell the FBI" if they had been offered information from a foreign government.

The question now is whether Donald Jr will testify under oath about the meeting, something he has indicated he is willing to do. It also raises the prospect of whether there was further contact between Trump's team and the Russian government over the course of the campaign.

Whether or not Donald Jr is found to have broken the law, it has added to the narrative around Trump and Russia. It also crushes the idea the issue would go away after Mr Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he tried to set a clean slate on the issue.

One thing that is certain according to University of California legal expert Carlton FW Larson, is that treason is not on the cards as Democrat Tim Kaine suggested.

"Assume everything that is being alleged against Donald Trump Jr is true: that is, he knowingly met with a representative of the Russian government for the purpose of obtaining information, probably illegally obtained, that was harmful to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Is this treason against the United States?" he wrote in The Washington Post.

"As a technical legal matter, no, and not even close … The upshot is a significant gap in our legal vocabulary. We do not have a good term to describe behaviour that is not technically treasonous but nonetheless constitutes a betrayal of the United States.

"I do not have a good solution to fill this gap, but our political and legal discourse would be improved if we had one."

News Corp Australia

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