On Tuesday, Trump once again publicly sought a foreign power’s assistance in unearthing political dirt on one of his political opponents after he repeated dubious claims regarding President Joe Biden‘s son.
Speaking to Real America’s Voice show Just the News, the former president suggested Putin should “release” information relating to accusations Hunter Biden’s company received $3.5 million from Elena Baturina, the widow of the former mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov.
“Why did the mayor of Moscow’s wife give the Bidens—both of them—three and half million dollars? That’s a lot of money,” Trump said. “She gave him three and half million dollars. So now I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer.”
The claim, which Trump has repeated since the 2020 election cycle, is widely disputed and there is no evidence that Joe or Hunter Biden received such a payment.
Hunter Biden’s legal team has in the past described as false the claim that he was paid $3.5 million.
Trump was widely criticized for asking Putin to give up some apparent dirt on the Bidens while Russia is accused of committing war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine.
While he has not formally announced his intention to run for president again in 2024, others have accused Trump of breaking federal law that prohibits any person from soliciting, accepting, or receiving anything of value from a foreign national in connection with an election.
The phrase “of value” does not have a clear definition and could also be interpreted as valuable information as well as money or other payments.
Richard Stengel, political analyst for MSNBC, said Trump’s latest Putin remarks are the 2022 version of when he asked Russia to try to find the 30,000 emails which his then Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton deleted from a personal server she used during her time as secretary of state.
“[That] was an illegal solicitation of a foreign adversary for help in an election. Now, he’s soliciting help from a war criminal,” Stengel tweeted.
However, Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former U.S attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, told Newsweek that while Trump asking a hostile foreign adversary is a “betrayal of loyalty to America,” it is unlikely to amount to a violation of federal election laws.
“The statute requires a willful violation if the law, which means proof that he knew what he was doing was illegal. I can imagine Trump saying he was just kidding or he was just making a political point by engaging in First Amendment protected speech,” McQuade said.
“And he would say that the fact that he made the statement publicly just proves that he was unaware that it was illegal. All the same tricks Trump has used before to shield his abhorrent conduct from criminal prosecution.”
McQuade also noted that in his report into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller ruled that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in an attempt to get dirt on Clinton did not meet the statute’s criteria to pass as a “thing of value” and therefore did not break election laws.
“Not every instance of misconduct, even horrible misconduct like this, is criminal. I would put this in the category of awful but lawful,” McQuade added in reference to Trump’s latest remarks abut Putin.
There have been other times where Trump has been accused of seeking foreign help in finding dirt on his political rivals.
The Department of Justice was also previously asked to investigate whether Trump’s 2019 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, where Trump was accused of threatening to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless he investigated Joe and Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings ahead of the 2020 election, was a violation of federal law.
However, the agency ruled there was not a potential campaign finance violation as what Trump was seeking was not considered of value.
One of those who took issue with the ruling was Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission. On September 26, 2019, one day after the transcript of Trump’s phone call was released, Weintraub tweeted the FEC’s own interpretation of the foreign contribution ban during elections.
“The Commission has recognized the ‘broad scope’ of the foreign national contribution prohibition and found that even where the value of a good or service ‘may be nominal or difficult to ascertain,’ such contributions are nevertheless banned,” Weintraub wrote.
Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Newsweek that whether “dirt” on Hunter Biden is a thing of value is still legally “unsettled.”
Rahmani added that the law is also “murky” as current statute says foreign nationals can volunteer to provide “services” without compensation to political candidates.
“The bottom line is, Congress or the courts need to revise or clarify this loophole in federal election law if the statute is going to have any teeth,” Rahmani said.
Trump has been contacted for comment.