Trump Jr.'s Russia emails could trigger probe under election law

NEW YORK, July 11 (Reuters) - Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father's presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated U.S. election law, experts said.

Trump Jr. met the woman, lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, on June 9, 2016, after an email exchange with an intermediary.

The emails, tweeted by Trump Jr. on Tuesday, could provide material for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

In one of the emails dated June 3, 2016, Trump Jr. wrote: "If it's what you say I love it." He released the tweets after the New York Times said it planned to write about their contents and sought his comment.

Trump Jr. said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.

"In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently," Trump Jr. said in an interview on Fox News. "For me, this was opposition research."

Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the U.S. criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump Jr.'s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said.

Moscow has denied interference in the U.S. election, and President Donald Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.'s lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.

RELATED: Politicians, pundits sound off on Donald Trump Jr.'s emails

21 PHOTOS
Politicians, pundits sound off on Donald Trump Jr.'s emails
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Politicians, pundits sound off on Donald Trump Jr.'s emails
If this isn't treasonous, I'm not sure what is. https://t.co/QrBaaf4psM
Is this Hillary Collusion?? https://t.co/JMX4kqIbt7
Quick reminder: something doesn't have to be illegal for it to be foolish, wrong and un-American. @DonaldJTrumpJr https://t.co/nnWxmryCKV
.@LindseyGrahamSC on CNN: I know Don Jr and Jared Kushner are new to politics but this is going to require a lot of questions to be answered
.@realDonaldTrump’s son & aides met w/ Russian agent to influence our election. That is a fact.… https://t.co/Enf0NK8AGj
.@MerriamWebster definition of #collusion: secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful p… https://t.co/Rqo26PD5Xw
Liberal media in a frenzy because Donald Trump Jr released all his emails. Should've just deleted them. We know that's fine with them!
What seems interesting: Email tells Trump Jr. the effort is part of Russia government's efforts to help Trump. He doesn't ask questions.
"On its face, this email chain is proof of a willingness expressed by @DonaldJTrumpJr to collude with Russia" --@JakeTapper on @CNN
So...this is it right?
I consider my friend @DonaldJTrumpJr a honorable man in every sense of the word . 🇺🇸✌️
Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman says Trump Jr. emails are "almost a smoking cannon." Told me "there's no question this is treason."
.@matthewamiller: I don't know how anyone can come out and defend what is in these emails, whether republican or democrat #AMR
Graham: Trump Jr. "definitely has to testify" https://t.co/SzwEwq9LLE
Sen. Hatch says the Don Jr. emails are not "relevant" and "all this stuff about Trump's sons and daughter -- it's a bunch of bunk."
Statement from @VPPressSec on Donald Trump Jr meeting and @VP's knowledge https://t.co/iYiyoWfHRx
There's NO way Don Jr, Jared & Paul Manafort met w/ the Russian Gov't operative without advising Donald Trump in advance. HE'S GUILTY, TOO!
Tapper: "This can't be dismissed as people out to get Donald J. Trump Jr. or fake news. This is evidence of willing… https://t.co/oSaRNQBtLb
So, I just talked to Mark Warner: https://t.co/eXm4ECI3OW
Sen @ChrisMurphyCT on Don Jr: "For a long time we saw a lot of smoke but no fire, you're seeing the fire today."
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FEDERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN ACT

One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a U.S. political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions.

A contribution does not have to be monetary in nature, according to Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with watchdog group Common Cause. He said incriminating information about Clinton could be considered a contribution under the act.

Ryan said Trump Jr.'s "enthusiastic response" to the offer for information and particularly his proposal in his email to have a follow-up call the next week constituted "solicitation."

"That to me is an indication, a concession by Donald Trump Jr. that he wants and is requesting this information," Ryan said.

Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said Trump Jr.'s emails made it "more plausible" that there could be a criminal case against him.

James Gardner, an election law expert at the University of Buffalo Law School, said the election law was intended to target donations of cash or goods and services.

He said he did not believe Trump Jr. would have violated the law if he solicited damaging information about Clinton.

A federal law known as the general conspiracy statute that makes it illegal to conspire to commit a crime against or defraud the United States could also come into play if, for example, Trump Jr. tried to help Russians hack into U.S. computer networks. There was no indication that Trump Jr. did such a thing.

Andrew Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School who was associate counsel in the White House Counsel's Office under former Democratic President Barack Obama, said he thought Trump Jr.'s agreeing to meet with someone to discuss an illegal act would be enough to trigger a conspiracy charge.

"It's a very powerful tool," he said. (Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Lindsey Kortyka; Editing by Anthony Lin and Noeleen Walder)

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