Columbia University Law School professor of legislative studies Richard Briffault explained the actual laws regarding treason, perjury, and collusion to MSNBC hosts Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday afternoon.
Several prominent Democrats have accused the president's son of "treason" with regard to a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer in 2016. The details of this meeting were published by the New York Times on Monday, but before that accusations of perjury and collusion with the Russians have also flown at Trump Jr., and many other members of the Trump campaign, from many elected Democrats and prominent media figures.
About allegations of treason against Trump Jr., the law professor explained: "Treason is a little extreme for this... [Russia] may not be our friend, but it is not clear they are our enemy. We are not at war."
About allegations of perjury against President Trump, his son, or members of his administration, the law professor explained: "I'm not sure any of this has been under oath yet... but you would have to prove [one] was knowingly and maliciously misleading, and [their] claim is to say he just forgot. So we're in a gray area there. "
About collusion, the law professor explained: "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."
About the final alegation, that Jared Kushner might have forgotten something on his security clearance form, but added it later, the law professor explained: "That's 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 still some question about how knowing that was. So, perjury no, lying to the government maybe."
(Previous allegations of 'obstruction of justice' with regard to the firing of FBI director James Comey appear to have been forgotten.)
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.
At this point, the MSNBC hosts break from the traditional interview format and display a piece of nine-by-eleven printer paper with the word 'collusion' written on it, apparently meant as an attempt to mock Trump spox Kellyanne Conway, who used similar 'visual aides' this morning on Fox News Channel. What on Earth are they doing...?
Briefault responds to these "collusion" accusations:
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.