Just when I think that ultimate absurdity and peak hysteria have been reached in the contrived effort to focus hate, fear and distrust on the President, something squirms up out of the muck to set a new–what should I call it? High? Low?
Let’s go with “low.” This one, like many of the others, was triggered by President Trump himself. Why does he do these things? It’s the strangest habit I’ve ever seen in a President or read about, and that includes such quirks as William McKinley calmly draping a dinner napkin over his wife Ida’s head when she would have epileptic seizures at state dinners. I cannot believe that Trump doesn’t know he is throwing red meat to the jackals when he deliberately hits “resistance” hot buttons. Is he trolling? Is he trying to push his enemies to expose their bias and irrationality for all to see? I don’t know. I do know the President shares responsibility for these periodic eruptions
Nevertheless, in this case Trump was being candid, and speaking the truth.
Speaking with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, President Trump said he would accept information on political opponents from a foreign government. “It’s not an interference,” he said. “They have information. I think I would take it.”
Then came the freak-out. Predictably, multiple impeachment advocates from the Democratic side of the aisle and their puppet pundits pronounced THIS as the ultimate, final, smoking gun proof that Trump should be impeached, without the immediate and required response from the news media and academia, of “What? Saying what you might do is an impeachable act now? Have you all taken leave of your senses?”
No, mere words and an answer to a hypothetical on a news show are not a crime, nor evidence of one to come. More importantly, the act President Trump described is not only not a crime, it is something I assume that many, many Presidential candidates have done and that virtually every single candidate would do. Trump is unusual in that he is open about it.
Now that’s ironic, don’t you think? The President who has been painted in the news media as a habitual liar is now being attacked for telling the truth.
Not helping to disperse the fog was in-again-out-again Trump ally Lindsey Graham, who said,
“If a foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign, giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no.”
That’s a completely muddled and confounding statement, but it nicely encapsulates the misinformation being fired off to impugn Trump:
- I do not see a tip regarding verifiable conduct by an opposing candidate as “an offer to help the campaign.” If I learn that a friend’s wife is having an affair, I tell him because he should know it. I’m not “offering to help his divorce.” I’ve been in that situation where I was friends with both spouses. I had no dog in the hunt, as my Kentucky father used to say, but I did think the betrayed party had a right to know the facts, whatever he decided to do with them. The distinction is important. If a foreign source comes to a candidate and says, “[My country/ I ] want (s) to help your campaign,” then Graham is right: the mandatory answer is “No.” However, if the message is “Here is some information you need to know,” that is materially different.
- The “anything of value” line invokes Federal Election Law as well as the Logan Act, which I had included in the Ethics Alarms “Impeachment And Coup Plans” list under Plan D, the Russian collusion conspiracy theory. I now see that I will have to break out the Logan Act nonsense into a sub-plan, Plan D-2, since I don’t want to have to re-letter the whole thing.
The Logan Act bars any U.S. citizen from interacting with a foreign government to influence policy. But the law is overly broad, probably unconstitutionally broad, and there have been no successful prosecutions under it, ever, in nearly 220 years. In this regard it is akin to Plan C, the Emoluments Clause.
Federal election law, administered by the Federal Election Commission, prohibits contributions, donations and other expenditures by “foreign nationals ”as well an exchange of any “thing of value” in any federal, state or local election. Pure information has never been found by the FEC or any court to meet the description of “anything of value,” so it is misleading and incompetent for anyone, including Graham, to suggest that information without a quid pro quo would breach any law. Offering money is clearly illegal, and information isn’t. Graham should not have equated them.
A pundit on MSNBC admitted that what the President described to Stephanopoulos was probably not illegal but that it was “immoral.” I have seen that description in several articles, op-eds and columns now, so I presume a talking point memo went out from Resistance Central.
I think I have some expertise in this area, being an ethicist and all, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out what moral tenet these critics are citing. An early promoter of the “immoral” theory was full-time anti–Trump hack Rep. Adam Schiff, who has persisted in claiming “collusion” based on evidence that the Mueller report explicitly did not see as collusion, and calling the fact that members of the Trump campaign agreed to meet with some Russians who they thought might provide usable intelligence on Hillary Clinton “unethical, immoral, and unpatriotic.”
In fact, any Presidential candidate who had reason to believe that his or her opponent had engaged in wrongful conduct serious enough that voters would want to know about it would be obligated to find out what that information was, no matter what the source was. How could Schiff, or anyone, credibly argue that it is patriotic NOT to expose misconduct by a candidate for President?
Let’s look at some of the ways such a revelation could come about…
A. A foreign national contacts candidate Y and says, “I have information about Candidate X that you and America need to know about.”
Should Y say “I don’t want to know about it”? The contact says, “It is very, very disturbing.” Candidate X is considered the successor to the current President, and there is reason to think that the information, if sufficiently serious, would be buried by the partisan FBI. Then what?
B. The candidate sticks his fingers in his ears and says “Nananananananana,” refusing to receive the information. The foreign contact then goes to a friend of the candidate, who is not part of the campaign, and tells her. She contacts Y and says, “I just received credible information that X is promising policy concessions to foreign powers in exchange for surreptitious efforts to hack voting machines.” X says, “Wow. Where did you learn that?” She says, “From a contact in [foreign nation].”
C. Or let’s say that X hears the information offered by the foreign national, no strings attached. He independently researches its veracity, and discovers that it is accurate. Is the country and the election better served if he decides, “Well, I can’t let anyone know about this, because that would be immoral”?
I can spin out hypotheticals all day. Is the foreign agent trying to “Influence the election,” or just trying to make sure the election is fair? Newspapers will happily publish the hacked information that Hillary was handed advance notice of town meetng questions by CNN contributor Donna Brazile. What would CNN have done if a Norwegian agent, through a CNN acquaintance, signaled that it had information that a CNN contributor was helping the Democratic candidate cheat? Would CNN be violating the law to “accept” such information, and act on it appropriately? Which would be immoral, ignoring the information, and allowing the Clinton campaign benefit by having a mole at CNN, or stopping the corrupt practice?
(Continued in Part 2)