Even for Dirt, There is a Law

Terry H. Schwadron

June 15, 2019

I’ve sat for an extra day, trying to make sense of the Trump remarks that he would accept political dirt on opponents from foreign governments — and the inevitable standard Trump attempt to walk back what he said.

It remains creepy.

We have a president who thinks the law, the Constitution, and his oath do not apply to him. We have a leader who thinks it is okay to let a foreign government interfere in our elections; essentially, he invited them to do so yet again in these remarks.

That Trump could make such a comment in this particular time, after this particular investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as Congress considers whether to impeach him for a string of just such acts and obstructing the probe to find out about them is simply outlandish.

His remarks underscore willfulness in breaking campaign finance law, most likely the link needed to show intent in a criminal prosecution considered by the Special Counsel.

Let’s recognize that the sentiment that he sees nothing wrong with foreign intervention, with attempts to put hooks into the candidacy of a presidential candidate, is so bad that even Trump-ally Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, other Senate Republicans turned their back individually — even though they declined to enact a resolution to make it stick.

“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” President Trump said in a interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “You don’t call the FBI. . . . Give me a break — life doesn’t work that way.”

Yes, you do. And, so do others:

· “If there is one thing the past three years have shown, the only good answer to a foreign country offering dirt on your political opponent is to decline and immediately report the offer to the FBI,” said a Washington Post editorial. “Our country is still enduring the fallout from Russian interference in 2016. It has cast a pall on my presidency and led to the indictment of former senior government and campaign officials. The last thing any president should do is encourage foreign meddling in our next presidential election.”

· Here’s a USA Today op-ed: “Donald Trump — who has claimed again and again that there was no collusion with Russia — now admits in an interview with ABC News that he would welcome an opportunity to collude with a foreign entity looking to help him win reelection. Welcome it. And you still support him?”

· And a CNN opinion piece: “By putting a “for sale” sign on his forehead — and indicating that he’s open for business when it comes to receiving dirt on his political rivals — President Donald Trump is encouraging foreign governments to attack his political opponents.”

Obviously, Trump has not read the Mueller Report (or summary) and its voluminous romp through untoward contacts with Russian operatives or his own team’s ready acceptance of foreign help. Still, you have to be deaf to news coverage not to understand that it is exactly this sort of public statement that is drawing the wrath of House Democrats and the 24 Democratic presidential politics.

With Donald Trump, you never know: He may have wanted to stir the pot against himself, making himself the victim. At the minimum, he seems to have made his remarks in would-be protection for his son, Don Jr., who clearly has lied repeatedly about his involvement in the Trump Tower meeting with Russians, among other incidents. In any case, by yesterday, he was saying he never really said what he had said — to no avail.

Let’s start with this from Vice News: “Specifically, U.S. campaign finance regulations, which clearly seek to block foreign entities from providing a boost to an American campaign, although they also leave room for debate about when negative political information amounts to a forbidden ‘thing of value.’” In other words, Trump is taunting the law.

Fox News’ own legal analyst, Andrew Napolitano,said were Trump to accept dirt from a foreign government, would be felonious.

In addition to the law, however, there is the security concerns about a winning candidate ending up in actual debt or in appearing to be in debt to another nation. There are ethical concerns here. And, as a matter of common sense: Trump has made clear that he is unfit to live up to an oath to protect the Constitution. He certainly fails any test of holding the presidency to a higher moral standard than the criminal code.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said that Trump is inviting further interference in elections, adding that his comments about accepting dirt from foreigners is lack “any ethical sense.” Still, she did not say that these comments would hasten any move towards impeachment, however ready the Congress (and I) may be to see Trump disappear from the White House. It has become difficult to understand what exactly would spark Pelosi to authorize impeachment.

Thankfully, House Democrats are rolling out a new package of bills that, among other things, would make it a crime for Trump to accept damaging information about opponents from foreign operatives. It will be interesting to see how Senate Republicans deal with such bills.

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Meanwhile, another federal agency indicates that lawlessness in the White House is more routine than one would think. The Office of Special Counsel on Thursday recommended the removal of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway from federal office for violating the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work. The agency described her as a “repeat offender,” but a decision was left to the president, who said he saw nothing wrong. Except the law, of course.

And I wish Sarah Huckabee Sanders well in leaving the White House. She held an impossible job, but did it poorly, too often lying for the boss.

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www.terryschwadron.wordpress.com

Journalist, musician, community volunteer