Mueller Report Opens Door for Civil Enforcement by FEC

Supplemental complaint addresses Don Jr.’s solicitation of campaign contribution from Russia

Today, Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21 filed a supplement to a complaint filed in July 2017 against President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign committee for soliciting contributions from foreign nationals in the form of opposition research offered by Russians. Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to bring criminal charges against Donald Trump Jr., Mueller provided a roadmap by which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) could pursue civil penalties.

Mueller concluded that Donald Trump Jr. setting up a meeting to accept “high level and sensitive” opposition research from a foreign government could violate federal law’s prohibition on soliciting a contribution from a person he knew was a foreign national. Mueller declined to bring criminal charges because he believed he could not meet the high prosecutorial standard for proving Trump Jr. acted “willfully,” and because of challenges in calculating the value of the promised documents—but this has no bearing on the FEC’s pursuit of civil penalties.

“The Mueller Report backs up our original complaint and makes very clear both that Don Jr. solicited the opposition research dangled by Russian intermediaries and that his solicitation was a violation of campaign finance law,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause vice president for policy and litigation. “Only the high bar for a criminal indictment of a knowing and willful violation spared Don Jr. from criminal prosecution. The FEC faces no such bar in levelling civil penalties against the president’s son. Ignorance of the law is no excuse in a civil proceeding.”

“There is no ‘willful’ requirement for civil enforcement by the FEC, which need only find reason to believe that Trump Jr. solicited a contribution from a person he knew was a foreign national,” said Brendan Fischer, director, federal reform at CLC. “The Special Counsel’s investigation confirmed the facts outlined in our FEC complaint, and confirmed that soliciting opposition research from a foreign government can violate the law. By enforcing the law, the FEC can show that foreign interference in our elections won’t go unpunished.”

“The Special Counsel’s office has done all the investigation that is necessary for the FEC to find that the Trump campaign and its senior officials, including Donald Trump Jr., violated the ban on soliciting campaign assistance from a foreign national, much less from the agents of a hostile foreign government,” said Donald J. Simon, general counsel to Democracy 21.  “Given the facts laid out by the Special Counsel, a failure by the FEC to enforce the law here would be an abdication of its statutory responsibility and would also set a terrible precedent.  It would send the message that meeting with foreign agents to see how much secret help they can provide to a candidate is perfectly fine.  If it does that, the FEC would once again make itself part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Citing FEC guidance, Mueller concluded that opposition research should be treated as a “thing of value” subject to the foreign national contribution ban. He also concluded that, “a foreign entity that engaged in [opposition] research and providing resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value.”

To view the supplement to the complaint, click here.