MSNBC had an interesting conversation this morning with Columbia University Law Professor Richard Briffault who told the hosts and their viewers that basically everything that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have been accused of is wrong. Legally, technically, wrong.
As Briffault expertly, and concisely, explains neither man is guilty of “treason,” “perjury,” giving “false statements,” or “colluding” with Russia. Based on all of the “evidence” gathered, the worst that can be said is that Jared Kushner might have lied or he might just be forgetful and Donald Trump Jr. showed bad judgment.
The MSNBC hosts were visibly saddened.
RICHARD BRIFFAULT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Treason is a little extreme for this, I mean it is not clear — [Russia] may not be our friend, but it is not clear they are our enemy. We are not at war. It is not clear this violates — it is against the U.S. government. So I am not up to treason yet.
STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC: So take ‘T’ off the table. What about the ‘P’? Perjury definition: ‘A person under oath states any material which he does not believe to be true.’ Would be constituted as perjury.
BRIEFAULT: Well, with the possible exception of Jared Kushner and the forms he filled out to get his security clearance, I’m not sure any of this has been under oath yet. On those, maybe it is not perjury, but there is a crime of lying to the U.S. government, but you would have to prove he was knowingly and maliciously misleading, and his claim is to say he just forgot. So we’re in a gray area there.
STEPHANIE RUHLE: So can we add in? The TIME Magazine [cover story this week] currently has Don Jr. on the cover, but in their piece they say that in the email chain between Don Jr. and the Russian intermediary, they say ‘Kushner maintains he did not read to the bottom of the email invitation to the meeting, so he didn’t understand the Russian promise it contained, that was on the fourth page. And yet, the subject line says ‘Russia, Clinton Private and Confidential.’ Does that argument that he didn’t scroll down hold any water?
BRIFFAULT: Is is irrelevant. The thing was that he was at the meeting and he didn’t report having been at the meeting –as I understand it– in his intial filing to get the security clearance.
So, at the very least, he has corrected that, but there is some question about how knowing that was. So, perjury no, lying to the government maybe.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC: We have another one: False statements. This is about a person knowingly and willfully making any materially false statement or representation within any of the three branches of government. This is obviously a lower standard, but does this apply here?
BRIFFAULT: This relates to the filing for the security clearance. It is a simlar kind of question. It was a false statement. Did he know it was false, or did he just forget? And it has been corrected. It may still affect whether he should have a security clearance. But it is not quite up to the level of a crime.
OK. Did you get all of that? Basically Donald Trump Jr. did nothing that was “actionably” wrong. Ali Velshi tries one more time and asks Professor Briffault about collusion, and Briffault crushes Velshi’s liberal dreams…
BRIFFAULT: Collusion isn’t really a crime, I think we are getting at things like ‘conspiracy to commit a crime,’ or coordination of campaign finance stuff. Collusion is more of a political term than a legal term.