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Criminal statutes were discussed all over news talk shows again this week when Donald Trump Jr. released the emails that led up to his meeting with a Russian lawyer. Last summer, he hoped to get some Russian opposition research on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. So did Donald Trump Jr. break any laws? NPR's Peter Overby has some answers.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Randall Eliason teaches law and writes the legal blog Sidebars. He used to be a federal prosecutor doing public corruption and government fraud cases. I asked him how a prosecutor might approach this as a potential criminal case.
RANDALL ELIASON: One of the first things that would pop into your mind as a prosecutor would be possible conspiracy charges.
OVERBY: That's because there are six people known to have been in the meeting - Trump Jr., brother-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, plus the Russian lawyer, the British businessman who arranged the meeting and a Russian-American lobbyist. So Eliason's theoretical case would include three charges of conspiracy.
ELIASON: That conspiracy charge by its nature does a very good job of encapsulating the entire scheme, everything that went on and allows you to sort of list all the different steps they took, all the different crimes they either committed or were trying to commit.
OVERBY: Now obviously some people scoff at the idea of any criminal case here, as did President Trump yesterday at his Paris press conference.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent.
OVERBY: But back to Eliason's theory - one charge would be criminal conspiracy. The other two would involve the underlying crimes.
ELIASON: Conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which prohibits, you know, hacking into someone else's computer. And that sounds like that's much of what the Russian interference involved - and then conspiracy to violate federal election law.
OVERBY: The election law says Americans can't solicit or accept money or anything of value in connection with elections. The AP reported today that the Russian-American lobbyist said the Russian lawyer brought Trump a folder of documents supposedly showing illicit contributions to the Democratic National Committee. The AP said that Trump Jr. lost interest when the lawyer said more research was needed. A third set of charges would come up if there was evidence of an attempted cover-up - aiding and abetting and failing to report a felony. President Trump yesterday dismissed the whole notion of wrongdoing.
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TRUMP: Nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting.
OVERBY: Eliason says that wouldn't be a defense.
ELIASON: The thing about conspiracy is you don't have to succeed. You can have a conspiracy that gets thwarted by the government or some other thing happens that makes it impossible for you to carry it out. You can still be prosecuted for the conspiracy itself.
OVERBY: But there's one other thing to keep in mind. Most of the facts in this case aren't yet publicly known. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
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