While Democrats and liberal pundits would have us believe otherwise, there was no violation of campaign finance laws in President Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian President. Like so much in the campaign finance realm, Democrats are attempting to apply an interpretation of the law against foreign campaign contributions as they wish it were, instead of the law as written or how it has been interpreted to date.
This is exactly what the Democrats attempted to do with the 2016 Trump campaign’s alleged efforts to procure negative information about Hillary Clinton from Russia. Federal law prohibits the solicitation of a campaign contribution or “thing of value” from foreign sources. There is debate about the meaning of “thing of value” among campaign finance experts, and it is unclear—at best—whether an investigation or information would constitute a thing of value (even assuming that other hurdles such as proving it was for campaign purposes could be overcome). But existing interpretations of the law do not matter to the Democrats and their liberal allies; they have decided this must be a crime and therefore it is.
We saw this same line of reasoning last year when Michael Cohen pled guilty to a campaign finance “violation" that was not illegal. As we wrote then: "But the fact remains that regardless of Mr. Cohen's guilty plea, it would be a stretch of the current interpretation of federal campaign finance law to conclude that the campaign finance violations he plead guilty to were actually a crime.”
If every request of a government office, in the U.S. or abroad, to investigate potential wrongdoing by a candidate constitutes an unlawful solicitation of a "thing of value," then every FEC complaint by Common Cause and every Democrat demand for the Manhattan District Attorney to investigate Donald Trump would be illegal. The investigations themselves would be unlawful. Indeed, the impeachment inquiry itself would be a massive in-kind contribution to the Democratic candidate for President.
Regarding the President’s conversation with Ukraine, the Department of Justice has correctly concluded that no campaign finance violation occurred:
Relying on established procedures set forth in the Justice Manual, the Department’s Criminal Division reviewed the official record of the call and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the Department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the Department has concluded the matter.
Sadly, that is not going to stop the Democrats from bewailing the President's improperly alleged campaign finance violation in their hysteria over impeachment. As former FEC Chairman Prof. Brad Smith said of the questionable interpretations of the law in the Cohen and Russia cases:
One problem is the refusal of a lot of Democrats to accept the results of the last election, but it goes further than that. . . . And you take this arcane, complex campaign finance law and you kind of start saying something has got to fit. And this to me is a real problem for the rule of law when you decide that there's a crime committed and now we just have to find the statute that fits.
By alleging that the President violated campaign finance laws in his call with Ukraine, the Democrats advance two of their favorite political goals: continually attacking President Trump in the hope of negating the results of the 2016 election and rewriting campaign finance rules through expansive new interpretations instead of through amending the law. Neither is good for the rule of law or the future of our republic.
According to the Democrats' desired interpretation, if the President negotiated a lasting peace in the Middle East or the end to the nuclear threat North Korea presents, he could be accused of doing so with the foreign government in order to help his campaign.
Finally, if the House of Representatives desires to turn allegations of dubious campaign finance violations -- which are civil violations enforced by the FEC -- into "high crimes" justifying impeachment of duly elected presidents, then each member of Congress should quickly hire a campaign finance law expert. AOC has serious allegations of campaign finance violations pending at the FEC. Would she vote for impeachment on an alleged campaign finance violation with a straight face? Knowing what we know about AOC, she likely would. But for everyone else, there's the proverb about living in glass houses.