18 U.S. Code § 371 - Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Such offense against the U.S. would be:

52 U.S. Code § 30121 - Contributions and donations by foreign nationals
(a) Prohibition
It shall be unlawful for—
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;

So by just going to the meeting - did the Trump Campaign seniors commit conspiracy?

  • 1
    Please specify the who/when/where/what of said meeting, preferably with a URL. A year or two from now those particulars will harder to recollect.
    – agc
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:33
  • 7
    This is a question that likely can only be answered after the trial (if/when there ever is one)
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:52
  • 3
    @blip Reasonable, educated, and suitable-for-this-site answers for it should still exist, however. It might be better to rephrase as "is there a reasonable legal basis, such as prior court precedent, to say this act constituted (illegal) conspiracy?" as that's a bit more clearly open to the possibilities. Brythan's answer contains some such information, though it's lost a bit in needless deflections. Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:59
  • 1
    Not sure why this is getting reopen votes. As written, it seems better suited for law.SE. If you reword it with less legalese, it becomes a near-duplicate of this question.
    – BradC
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 21:29
  • 3
    I'm voting to close this as premature/off-topic. The only answer (not downvoted into oblivion) it got and is going to get for now is "time will tell". Keeping such questions open just encourages speculation with little factual basis. The question is also a heavily slanted toward criminal legal questions that are better asked (in a more generic form) at law.stackexchange.com I know this was closed and then reopened. But look at the results/answers... Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:36

3 Answers 3


First of all, I am not a lawyer, I will just cite some sources and interpret a little bit.

Conspiracy against the U.S.

Let's look at this first, particularly at the supreme court opinion HAMMERSCHMIDT v. US, stating:

To conspire to defraud the United States means primarily to cheat the government out of property or money, but it also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.

One of the key words, both in the opinion, in the title of the question and in 18 U.S.C.371 is conspiracy. Lectric Law Library's page on this law says it is not necessary to prove the conspirators succeed in their plan. It does, however, name 4 conditions that need to be established (direct quote):

First: That two or more persons, in some way or manner, came to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan, as charged in the indictment;

Second: That the person willfully became a member of such conspiracy;

Third: That one of the conspirators during the existence of the conspiracy knowingly committed at least one of the methods (or 'overt acts') described in the indictment; and

Fourth: That such 'overt act' was knowingly committed at or about the time alleged in an effort to carry out or accomplish some object of the conspiracy.

Attribution for quote: Lectric Law Library. "CONSPIRACY." Lectlaw.com. Accessed August 11, 2018. https://www.lectlaw.com/def/c103.htm.

When would going to the meeting constitute such a conspiracy?

Taking into account the points above, it depends on what the conspirators' plan was regarding that meeting. If, for one of the three people named in the question, merely going to the meeting would be conspiracy against the U.S. then the meeting itself would have to be one of the overt acts (as named in points three and four of the part above). This might be the case if:

1: two people (at least one of them being one of the three named in the question) agreed on a plan to 'cheat the government out of property or money' (from the SCOTUS opinion) and that plan includes the Trump Tower meeting in some way;

2: verbatim from the four points above;

3: actually going to that meeting as an 'overt act' in the plan from point 1;

4: this seems similar to part three (possibly focusing more on the timeline).

What we do know about the meeting

President Trump on the 5th of August tweeted the following about the meeting (emphasis is mine):

Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

It has since been established that two Russia-linked people attended the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin (former Soviet counterintelligence officer) and Natalia Veselnitskaya (Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin) in addition to the three Trump-campaign related people named in the question.

If (again, IANAL) this could constitute conspiracy against the U.S. then it would obviously be within the scope of Special Council Robert Mueller as he is tasked with, among other things (quoting his appointment letter):

any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump

So, was there conspiracy?

This we obviously don't know (yet). The charges brought against Manafort in the August 2018 trial are exclusively aimed at financial crimes (so not pertaining to the Trump Tower meeting). The charges in the second trial (dating from 2017) do not relate to the Trump Tower meeting either. To the best of my knowledge, no charges have been brought (yet) against Trump Jr. or Kushner relating to this meeting.


The meeting in itself can only be a conspiracy if it is part of a (broader) plan of two or more people to do something illegal against the United States. This has not been proved yet, nor have there been charges filed to allege that.

Since the investigation (by Mueller) is ongoing, only time will tell how it plays out.

  • For the sake of the argument: there was no conspiracy as no one presented any proof alleging anything illegal. That is why the word of the Year is collusion. Innocent until proven guilty... It is, actually, a very wise rule.
    – user10424
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 15:03
  • @AcePL if you agree with the assertion that Mueller's investigation is looking into this then the fact that the investigation is on-going makes your statement that there was no conspiracy immature. As for the word collusion, that's only used by the media. The term has no legal meaning.
    – JJJ
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 15:15
  • I'm in general agreement, just quibbling over the wording. Mueller's investigation is, of course, ongoing, however that is no indication of criminality of the event in question. There may be sth found in the future, but as of today the actual state of play is: no crime in the meeting, no conspiracy. The fact that only one question of 30 leaked to the press deals with that meeting shows the priority of this issue in the M's investigation... But to reiterate: not disagreeing in general, just wording. [Then again, there was just wording in extremely careless... ;-)]
    – user10424
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 16:30
  • I think this is a decent answer to an as-yet-unanswerable question. That said, you don't address the case where the meeting is where the "mutual understanding" took place, and then someone left that meeting and "knowingly committed an ... overt act".
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 12:14

Was attending the meeting by Trump Jr., Kushner or Manafort, an “act to effect the object of the conspiracy” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 371?


No such charge has been filed by the Department of Justice.

Speculation in popular media is not equivalent to an actual information, complaint or indictment.

The Federal Election Commission's mandate relevant to enforcement actions is

By law, all enforcement cases must remain confidential until they’re closed.

thus, any enforcement action pursuant to a complaint regarding Foreign Nationals would not be made public until the case was closed.

Such offense against the U.S. would be:

52 U.S. Code § 30121 - Contributions and donations by foreign nationals (a) Prohibition It shall be unlawful for— (1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make— (A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;

The intent of the statute 52 U.S. Code § 30121 appears to apply to foreign nationals, not U.S. citizens, see Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017) at pages 138-140

The term “foreign national” means: (1) a “foreign principal” within the meaning of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. § 611, and (2) any person who is not a citizen of the United States, or a national of the United States who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence. 52 U.S.C. § 30121(b). A “foreign principal” includes a foreign government, a foreign political party, and a corporation organized under the laws of a foreign country. None of these entities may make contributions or donations to any candidate or political party in the United States.

Thus, 52 U.S. Code § 30121 is not applicable to the U.S. citizens mentioned at the original question, making the accusation of "conspiracy" within the meaning U.S.C. § 371 inapplicable.

  • 2
    The entirety of your comment is wrong, and you intentionally omitted the relevant part of the statue to make your case. Specifically, 52 U.S. Code § 30121 subsection (a)(2): It shall be unlawful for ... (2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.
    – C. Helling
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 19:55
  • @C.Helling do you mean the "entirety of your answer is wrong?" Or were you replying to a comment which was later deleted?
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 20:47
  • @grovkin I was referring to his entire answer being wrong, not sure why I wrote comment.
    – C. Helling
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 20:50
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    @C.Helling - Regardless of the omission in the quote answer is perfectly acceptable with the presented argumentation. Question is not about the legality of the possible gains from that meeting nor the assumption those gains would be classified as a contribution (or in-kind contribution). With evidence available the meeting could not be a conspiracy because no crime took place, no crime was discussed and no possible crimes were to be committed, as proven by published exchange of messages AND present parties' testimonies; but anyway question does not deal with that, as it doesn't have to.
    – user10424
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 12:39
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    @C.Helling - Totally wrong. Absence of evidence is evidence enough. No proof, no crime. That's how it works (just to remind: not guilty until proven otherwise). So you're the one who's asserting anything. Also, answer contains more arguments than one you say is incomplete. Your "relevant part" is what constituted a "contribution", which I argue does not have to be a part of the answer here.
    – user10424
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 15:08

Things of value

I've seen this claim previously. It basically swings on whether opposition research (also called dirt on a political opponent) is a "thing of value" in the context of the law. Most analyses I've seen have depended on what the person doing the analysis thought of Donald Trump, which makes them questionable.

Can "thing" be something intangible? Or does it have to be something with a physical representation? The first two possibilities relate primarily to fiscal transactions, where there is a physical thing that can represent the transaction (even if the transaction only takes place in virtual form). We can represent the transaction with physical currency.

The pro-Trump analyst generally says that in this section a "thing" has to be something with a physical representation. That could be money, a car, or even an advertisement (which has a fiscal value). But it can't be something as intangible as information.

The anti-Trump analyst might argue that money and advertisements are also intangible.

Proof of conspiracy

My personal opinion is that precedent is on the pro-Trump side. Politicians like Bob Menendez, Bob McDonnell, and Bill Jefferson have had convictions rejected or reversed on much more solid evidence (actual tangible things).

It's difficult to prove a conspiracy. It's not enough to prove a quid and a quo (all three examples had that). They need to prove that the reason for the quid was the quo. I.e. they have to prove pro to make quid pro quo.

Another issue in this case is that there is no evidence that there was ever an agreement for the Trump side to do anything for the Russian side. The Russian side failed to provide the information they suggested existed. So even if it were decided that opposition research constitutes a "thing of value" under that law (which is itself a questionable assertion), they still might not be able to prove conspiracy because in this case, they lack quid and quo as well as pro.

If information is a "thing of value" in the context of that law, they would have a much better case against Fusion GPS, which gave actual money to Christopher Steele, a foreign national, in exchange for information. Note that the law there doesn't differentiate between foreign nationals of Russia versus the United Kingdom. Of course, many people might make a moral distinction.


Steele had the intent to affect the election. He openly told people that he wanted Trump to lose. From Vox:

In September 2016, Steele spoke with Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr. He told Ohr that he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” Ohr’s wife worked for the research firm, Fusion GPS, that hired Steele on behalf of the DNC/Clinton lawyer.

So we have quid (money went from Fusion GPS to Steele); we have quo (information went from Steele to Fusion GPS); we have intent (Steele intended to affect the election); and Steele of course is a foreign national.

Contrast that with the Trump Tower meeting on June 9th, 2016. No quid nor quo. No money, information, nor promises for the future were exchanged. There was no actual conspiracy.

Now, some people claim that such things did happen in that meeting, but they have no proof of that. That's why they're talking about much weaker claims, like going to the meeting to get opposition research (dirt on Hillary Clinton) was in and of itself conspiracy. But again, if that's true, that would apply even more to Christopher Steele. He was a foreign national giving information to affect the election. People took meetings with him specifically to get access to that information with the hope of affecting the election. Fusion GPS gave him money to help him get more information to use to affect the election.

Saying that intent was lacking is the Steele/Fusion GPS relationship is totally ignoring the actuality. They had the intent. What they lacked was the ability.

The claim that Fusion GPS paying for the information made it all right is absurd. In reality, that's simply more proof. Consider, what would have happened if the Russians had produced information in the meeting and Donald Trump, Jr. had paid them for it? Would that make it all right? That position essentially says that it is criminal to want to obtain such information and fail but legal to succeed.

It's easy to explain why the Trump team answered the way that they did. While digging up dirt on one's opponent is not illegal, it is unseemly. Politicians do not like looking unseemly. So they emphasized what actually happened in the meeting: they got a lecture on how the Magnitsky Act was blocking adoptions of Russian children in the US. They deemphasized that they had been hoping for dirt and in fact, that was the only reason they took the meeting. This may have been silly, as the story was almost certain to come out, but as amateurs, they may not have realized that.

  • 6
    Your last paragraph is brushing aside the entire issue of intent, which is the entire issue.
    – user1530
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 3:57
  • 3
    Where does the need for "quid pro quo" come from? It's not in any of the OP's quotes. The first discusses "conspiracy", which (in its general meaning) means two or more people agreeing to do something - no "in exchange for" required. The second simply prohibits foreign donations - again, no "in exchange for" is stated. Please cite where conspiracy requires quid pro quo in a legal context.
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 11:37
  • 4
    Your false equivalence argument between the Trump Tower meeting and the Steele dossier was already dismantled by the WaPo here. To summarize, it's the difference between soliciting a campaign contribution (from a foreign govt no less) and a campaign expenditure (paid for by legally raised campaign contributions).
    – C. Helling
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 21:44
  • This answer's large number of down votes proves that this site is manipulated by liberals to ensure answers that clearly disprove their unsupportable beliefs appear to be bad answers. On other SE sites, answers with negative votes are truly bad answers, so people habitually don't read them. On Politics SE, the they use this behavior to attempt to hide the most meaningful answers because they do an effective job of disproving the liberal view. On other SE sites, negative votes are because answers are truly bad, not because one disagrees with the opinion. Not here.
    – Dunk
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 19:40
  • @Dunk If factually incorrect and misleading posts were doing an effective job "disproving the liberal view," shouldn't less people hold such a liberal view in the first place? Luckily you have conservatives who blindly upvote anything that fits their presupposed worldview to combat this liberal conspiracy. Kind of ridiculous to claim liberals downvote posts like these simply because they have a conservative view when the top 2 users by reputation on this site are clearly conservative.
    – C. Helling
    Commented Aug 14, 2018 at 21:31

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