My understanding is that Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer intending to get information damaging to Hillary Clinton from said lawyer. Campaigning politicians always gather damaging information about their opponents from anywhere they can find it. I don't understand why the source of the information makes a difference. If they had been working together to do something specifically illegal, like hacking voting booths or something, I could understand the fuss but gathering information is a perfectly legal and normal thing to do so far as I know. What am I missing? If the lawyer had been Swedish instead of Russian would this still be an issue?

Edit: If the fact that the information came from a foreign national is what makes it illegal, does this mean that any information that a campaign finds useful, no matter how mundane, from anyone who is not a US citizen is illegal to obtain?


2 Answers 2


The short answer is yes. It does matter where the information comes from

There is a legal difference because a campaign cannot take something of value from a foreign agent. But that is off topic.

It makes a big difference politically because of the ongoing investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian Government. As such it fits a pattern of senior people, close to Trump, having contacts with Russian agents, in this case, a lawyer who has some (disputed) connection to the Russian Government.

It would have been different if it had been a Swedish Lawyer. Sweden is an active ally of the USA, Sweden is a close partner to NATO and a "Western Democracy". Russia is none of these things. Moreover, there have been multiple examples of people losing their position in the Trump administration (Cage, Manafort, and most notably Flynn) following evidence that they had contacts with Russians. The Russians favoured the election of Trump over Clinton. The impression is that these stories about Russian are moving closer to the President. The question is, did President act improperly?

So on its own, this is not much of a story. But as part of a pattern of behaviour among Trump associates, it is important.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 14:29
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    So if Venezuela, similarly not "Western democracy" or part of NATO, were to have supported Clinton, that would have also been concerning. Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 14:58
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    @PaulDraper See chat.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 15:31
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    There's also the issue that it was unreported contact with a foreign agent, which could (at least in theory) be grounds for revocation of his security clearance and federal criminal charges. Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 1:52
  • @RedGrittyBrick I'm avoiding discussing legal matters. See chat.
    – James K
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 16:45

There are three main issues.

  1. Intent.
  2. Credibility of source.
  3. Spying.

Firstly, with what intent is Russia willing to offer damaging information on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign? It suggests that Russia are actively trying to influence the presidential election of a foreign country, and by agreeing to meet and receive said information, the Trump campaign essentially agrees to help this foreign country in their efforts to influence the US election. This can be interpreted as treason. It doesn't matter that the Trump campaign have an independent reason to want that information .... by agreeing to take it from Russia specifically, they are essentially agreeing to help a foreign country influence national affairs, which is illegal.

Secondly, what credibility does this information have, given that it comes from Russia? We have already established that Russia are actively attempting to influence the election, so can information received from a Russian source be deemed trustworthy? Could the information have been tampered with, artificially modified to make Hillary Clinton look as bad as possible? A responsible campaign uses trustworthy sources. Russia certainly is not a trustworthy source.

Finally, there's the issue of spying. How did Russia get some highly secret, damaging information on Hillary Clinton? A reasonable guess is that the information was achieved by illegal methods, such as spying. In that case, by agreeing to accept that information, the Trump campaign is using illegaly obtained information by a foreign country, which, again, borders on treason.

All the above are reasons why colluding with Russia this one time is wrong in and of itself. But, obviously, the reason all of this is so much of a major issue is because this is not a one-off, but rather one of many indications of certain ties between the Trump administration and a hostile, foreign nation that is always classified as a US-rival, and often even as a US-enemy.

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    Treason is a very specific legal term and (at least in the USA) is linked with aiding a country with which the USA is at war, so this is not best word choice. And, according to this question in the law SE, that the e-mails have been obtained by illicit means does not forbids someone else from receiving or even publishing them. And this comment comes from someone who has no love left for Trump, in case you are wondering.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:53
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    @dev_willis Concerning your assumption: If the info was obtained illegally, and you know it was obtained illegaly, then it is illegal. If you did not know, then if the info is untrustworthy, then it is not illegal to publish it, but it is certainly unethical, and if the person offering the information is a US citizen, and not a foreign nation, then it is again unethical, but not illegal. So, in short, it becomes illegal because Russia is foreign and because Russia might've obtained the information illegally* and the Trumpies might've **known that.
    – Imean H
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:02
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    From the answer (emphasis mine): "Boehner v. McDermott determined that a party who knows that material is illegally obtained and did not participate in obtaining the material is not liable". And of course, even if that was not the case, the obvious course of action would be for the receiving party to do not ask the provider how they got the material.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 19:04
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    @JeffLambert yeah, I'm not saying it doesn't look bad. Where there's smoke there's fire and all that. But I'm not here concerned with the larger issue. I'm just curious about why it matters where he got, or tried to get, info about Hillary. The couple you mention were executed because the sketches they sent were of nuclear weapon designs. Not even close to the same thing as gathering dirt on a political opponent.
    – dev_willis
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 20:56
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    @SJuan76 - To be correct, treason is a very specific legal term and (at least in the USA) is linked with aiding a country with which the USA is an enemy. There is nothing in the treason law that requires the USA to be at war with the country. Whether the Russian Federation is an enemy of the USA would be up for a court to decide, I guess.
    – Scott
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 3:41

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