Trump Staffers' Plagiarism Confession Revealed MUCH Bigger Violation

Trump Staffers’ Plagiarism Confession Revealed MUCH Bigger Violation

The Trump Campaign May Have Admitted To A Serious Federal Violation

The Donald Trump campaign is desperate to move on from the embarrassment of Melania Trump’s speech, initially considered the gem of Monday’s opening night events, which contained an entire paragraph plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. Unfortunately for Trump, the plagiarism story is mushrooming into a much bigger problem. The campaign tried to put the incident to bed with a mea culpa statement from a staffer who took the blame for it, but was not going to be fired. But the statement itself revealed a potentially much bigger violation than copying another political spouse’s biography. Now a Democratic Super PAC has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over alleged illegal coordination.

Related: Speechwriter Comes Clean: Melania Trump Plagiarized Speech Because She Admires Michelle Obama

In a statement, Meredith McIver, who is an employee of the Trump Organization, took responsibility for “the chaos” in the process of writing Melania’s speech. She claims that she offered her resignation, and was denied, so she continues to be employed by Trump. In order to read the statement from the Trump/Pence campaign website, you have to click on a link which brings you to Meredith McIver’s statement, which is posted on the Trump Organization website, not the campaign’s website.

This becomes a problem, because, while it is clear that McIver is an employee of the Trump Organization, it is not clear that she is an employee of the Trump campaign. If she is working for the Trump campaign but is not officially employed by the Trump campaign, that could constitute illegal coordination between a business and a campaign. The value of her service could be considered as “in-kind contribution” that is not legally accounted for, according to the Federal Election Commission‘s description of how federal campaign statutes are applied.

Trump could make this whole issue go away simply by proving that McIver is a paid staffer of the Trump campaign, and was working in that capacity when she was helping Melania. So far, there has been no statement to that effect. Politico reported on Thursday that, when asked about McIver’s role in the speech-writing, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said,

“Look, none of us knew that Ms. McIntyre [sic] was even involved in the process,” the Trump campaign chairman said at a press conference from Cleveland, bungling McIver’s name. “I asked Melania Trump what the story was about. She insisted and I believe her that these were her words, and the statement that Ms. [McIver] gave yesterday is consistent with that.”

As if to emphasize how much he doesn’t know McIver, Manafort even called her by the wrong name in his statement.

The Washington Post has dug into the issue in a report that is being occasionally updated on its site. The Post reports that even the Trump Organization letterhead on a statement issued from the campaign is problematic. Because even something as mundane as letterhead is a resource with a cost that needs to be itemized and reported to the FEC. The Post showed FEC filings listing paid staffers of the Trump campaign, which did not include McIver. The Post quoted Lawrence Noble, a campaign law expert who said that it could be a criminal violation of federal law.

“‘On the face of it, this looks like a corporate violation,’ explained Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. And that is ‘a violation of federal law. It can result in civil penalties to the corporation and the campaign.’ If the campaign used corporate resources ‘willingly and knowingly,’ the offense is a criminal one.”

This law has been enforced recently. In 2015, Tyler Harber was sentenced to two years in federal prison in Virginia for intentionally coordinating between a Super PAC and candidates and official campaigns.

[contentblock id=7 img=gcb.png]

This is not the first time the Trump campaign has come under scrutiny for allegations of violating campaign law. In June, politicians around Europe began reporting that they had received mass marketing emails from the Trump campaign fishing for donations and support. This, despite the fact that campaign donations from foreign officials is illegal. Two election watchdogs filed FEC complaints in respsone.

These violations are remarkable because, ever since the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings gutted campaign finance law in 2010 and 2014, it has become rather difficult to violate campaign law. Super PACs can get away with a great deal that was previously illegal. As long as they run under general understandings of their strategy, without direct and blatant evidence of illegal coordination with a candidate or campaign, they can operate with great impunity on behalf of candidates and causes, while receiving virtually unlimited sums of money. The fact that the Trump campaign has now twice come under complaints about violating campaign law suggests that the Trump campaign doesn’t understand the law or doesn’t care. It potentially raises questions about how a Trump White House would approach federal law and the US Constitution.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images