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What Qualifies A ‘Thing Of Value’?

To The Reader’s Forum:

Under Section 30121 of Title 52 of the U.S. Code, it is unlawful for a “person to solicit (from a foreign national a thing of value) . . . in connection with a Federal . . . election.”

Whether President Trump violated this election law by imploring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call to investigate presidential hopeful Joe Biden, and his son, for alleged wrongdoing in 2015 may turn on three little words: a “thing of value.”

In its review of the call, the Justice Department concluded that the solicited information could not be quantified as a thing of value as required by the election law. This finding is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the term and the Justice Department’s own Criminal Resource Manual.

What is a “thing of value”?

We’ve all heard the idioms “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” In other words, the worth attached to both tangible and intangible things is often subjective, not objective. Something may have no or little commercial, quantifiable value, and yet be of value to others for individual reasons.

Section 2044 of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual says that “(t)he term ‘thing of value’ is used throughout (the U.S. Criminal Code), and includes intangible and tangible things.” The same section goes on to say that the term “has been broadly construed to focus on the worth attached (to the “thing“) by the defendant, rather than its commercial value.” Another section of the Criminal Resource Manual, Section 1475, says that “(e)ven something as intangible as information has been held sufficient” to be a “thing of value.”

Why did Trump solicit a foreign national to find wrongdoings by the Bidens? Surely, information of this sort would harm Joe Biden’s chances of getting the nomination of his party as its 2020 presidential candidate. It has been reported by several news outlets earlier this year that Trump is concerned about facing Biden in the 2020 presidential election. If Trump does face Biden in the 2020 presidential election, the solicited information would hurt Joe Biden and help Donald Trump in their run against one another for the Office of the Presidency.

Damaging information on one presidential hopeful and/or candidate is obviously a “thing of value” to his opponent. Section 30121 of Title 52 of the U.S. Code makes soliciting it from a foreign national in connection with a federal election unlawful, subjecting the solicitor of the information to indictment and prosecution or, if you’re the President of the United States, to impeachment and removal from office.

Maurice F. Baggiano

Jamestown

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