Reality Check: There Is Nothing “Stunning,” “Immoral” Or Illegal About A Presidential Candidate Receiving Damaging Information About His Opponent From A Foreign Source, PART I

Preface.

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.

I.

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.

II.

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].”

Now what?

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)

15 thoughts on “Reality Check: There Is Nothing “Stunning,” “Immoral” Or Illegal About A Presidential Candidate Receiving Damaging Information About His Opponent From A Foreign Source, PART I

  1. To have a security clearance, one must report contacts with foreign nationals where:
    The contact is close and/or continuing; AND
    The point of contact Is the person seeking or maintaining a security. Learance or the person’s spouse
    AND the relationship existed within the last seven (7) years;
    AND A bond of affection, influence, COMMON INTEREST (emphasis provided), and/or obligation must exist between the foreign national and the person in question (or spouse)

    It certainly seems that Lindsey was correct. Of course there is wiggle room in the final requirement. The contact should be reported to the FBI. Whether it is a crime to not report is not something I have researched, but to argue that there is nothing wrong with not reporting would seem to ignore security clearance requirements; I suppose those requirements might only require to us peasants and not the President.

    • The issue isn’t reporting it, though. The issue is receiving the information. Trump offhand said he wouldn’t report it to the FBI, then said he would. Nor did Trump’s hypothetical involve a continuing or close contact.

    • Phil, I don’t know what that guy thinks he’s saying, nor is “privately, “everyone agrees” credible or actual news. It would be rejected in court testimony. “Have you spoken to every member of Congress? Do all of them mean the same thing or use the same words?” It’s crap. HE isn’t even clear. Wrong (as in incorrect, unethical or illegal)? “Unacceptable,” which may mean politically? And why is Kinzinger suddenly an authority? He sure sounds like an inarticulate goof. If you’ll recall I also said that Trump’s comments were foolish, which I guess is unacceptable. I’ll go head to head with this guy and ask what he thinks a candidate should do in various scenarios. I doubt he’s thought about them at all.

  2. Jack,
    It appears that many cannot distinguish between accepting information from a foreign power and coordinating clandestine efforts to disseminate said information; especially disinformation.

    It seems to me that should a hostile power offer information on your opponent it would be an easy assumption to believe it false. If the info is false as expected or assumed it has no value until it is used against an opponent successfully. That will be impossible to prove. Electoral choices are not made by one negative expose such as the TMZ hot mike recording. Who can say why X lost and Y won when you have to parse the rationales of differential voters. Good luck with that.

    Passing false information to the FBI is exactly what has brought us to this point. Why did no one ask HRC why they gave the unverified dossier with information collected by an agent of a foreign power whose sources were agents of a hostile power and known ministers of disinformation to a member of the FBI and why the White House made it available to so many in the intelligence community if the plan was not to get it into the public sphere? Why did Brennan, Comey and Clapper include the unverified dossier in Comey’s meeting with Trump and then leak it to the press?

    If I am told that my friend is cheating on his wife I don’t run to the wife without verifying the info well beyond mere preponderance. I would say nothing and do nothing until I was certain of the behavior. Unvetted commentary has done more damage than silence.

    Regarding Kinzinger comments, it appears that the media has struck fear into the GOP. Kinzinger used to have a backbone but Washington has a method to remove that in politicians. That is why the press CAN be the enemy of our republic. It need not be but when the ideals of the staff supplant the goals of proving objective information we are all in danger of the media oligarchs. No one questions this idea that we have a duty to report. What if the information provided is simultaneously transmitted to the FBI or Homeland Security and the press?

    Interference in our electoral processes was facilitated not by Trump but by all the persons pushing the idea that he is a puppet of Russia.

  3. Let’s think about this logically. You are a foreign government official, and you just heard the most powerful leader in the world essentially say that he would welcome dirt on his opponents. But, why would you — a person who doesn’t even live in the US — know more dirt than say the media, congressional insiders, lobbyists, or US governmental officials? The answer is that you don’t, but you possibly could get such information through illegal means (hacking and bribing leap to mind), and you’ve just been encouraged to do so by the President. Not only would the President welcome such information, but, if he does get re-elected, you now might have a better friend in the White House who now owes you a favor. So the President has encouraged crimes and has created a quid pro quo situation with foreign operatives. Nope, nothing to see here.

    • Any self-respecting diplomat/spy would not need the open encouragement of a sitting president to do so because, guess what?, doing that is part of their jobs already.

    • Desperate spinning and grasping at straws, Sparty.

      If Trump would be willing to accept such info and that is ‘wrong,’ what are your thoughts about Hillary and Obama actually accepting such information (and making a lot of it up)? Using it to spy on political enemies after lying to FISA courts?

      Geez…

        • PRESIDENT Trump did nothing wrong. Or even unethical (which IS an unusual event, I will admit: you can be forgiven for the confusion)

          You making shit up to criticize PRESIDENT Trump that is not illegal or unethical is what we were talking about, while ignoring the same (“I’ll have more leeway after the election”) and ACTUAL criminal acts from your side of the aisle.

          I asked you a legitimate question, one you don’t have the guts or integrity to answer.

          i understand why you won’t answer: where you live, progressives will attack you and ruin your life if you were to admit that Democrats have done worse than the PRESIDENT Trump ‘non-crime of the moment’ they are harping about.

  4. Where in his comments does he welcome foreign dirt? Accepting and welcoming are two completely different concepts.

    This is part of the problem. Clinton’s former aide asks a question about would the president inform the FBI if approached with information. He said he would listen and might or might not inform the FBI. Should the President inform the FBI each time a foreign person confesses some Info on his or her opponent? Further, his reference about a foreign power was not a hostile one. Not that our relationship matters in terms of foreign influence in elections

    Assume Kysliak tells a Trump surrogate that Joe Biden when he was in Ukraine he procurred several young boys for his personal gratification. Now the FBI is informed and they tell Biden. The press get wind of this because it is news. How the press gets the info is now immaterial. Did the Trump surrogate leak it or did someone in the FBI leak it?

    If Trump’s comment about Russia finding HRC’s deleted emails deemed to be an invitation to hack opposition servers thenHRC’s comments about wiping her server with a cloth indicates abject incompetence regarding IT issues and her desire to get a DNC official to corrupt the debate by getting advance notice of questions indicates that she is a cheat and willing to violate rules to achieve an end. She is not above the law.

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