On September 23, 2019, Common Cause filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that President Donald Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, and other political operatives illegally solicited a political contribution from a foreign national—by urging Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials to investigate Hunter Biden and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden. The allegations were first published in The Wall Street Journal, and subsequently President Trump admitted that during a July 25th phone call he pressured President Zelensky to pursue the investigation of his political rival and his son.
Federal law prohibits a foreign national from directly or indirectly making a “contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” in connection with a U.S. election. Federal law also prohibits a person from soliciting or providing substantial assistance in the solicitation of such a contribution from a foreign national. Federal law defines “contribution” to include “any gift … of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” And the FEC by regulation defines “solicit” to mean “to ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly, that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value.”
In a July 25 phone call, President Trump repeatedly pressured President Zelensky—about eight times—to work with Rudy Giuliani on an investigation that could damage Biden in the 2020 election. Giuliani reportedly worked with political operatives Victoria Toensing, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman and perhaps others to likewise urge an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, through meetings with Ukrainian prosecutors and other officials over the course of many months.
Under the law, whether or not President Zelensky or other officials complied with the requests and whether or not the communications involved a quid pro quo, the solicitation of a thing of value from the President of the Ukraine in connection with a U.S. election could be a federal crime.