The Russia collusion suspicions were fueled entirely by Trump and his campaign. The ABC News foreign ‘dirt’ interview shows he hasn’t learned a thing.
A lot of people are outraged by President Donald Trump’s admission last week that he would happily accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government. I’m not outraged though, or even particularly upset. This is nothing new. Trump has said as much over and over again. Almost a year ago, he tweeted about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics.”
What I am is frightened. After two years of being hectored, lectured and dragged over the coals, Trump has learned absolutely nothing. Worse, he doesn’t appear to have the capacity or desire to learn anything. Most people learn pretty quickly about touching a hot stove. In Trump’s case, his campaign’s efforts to get a foreign government to give him dirt on a political opponent have been more like licking a frozen flagpole— incredibly stupid and hard to escape.
Trump himself fuels collusion suspicions
Trump’s constant complaints about being suspected of colluding with the Russians were entirely fueled by Trump and his own campaign. Who can forget the news conference where he encouraged the Russians to hack into Clinton’s servers and steal her emails? Donald Trump Jr.’s giddy acceptance of an apparent offer from the Russian government promising dirt on Clinton and her campaign? George Papadopoulos bragging to an Australian diplomat that Russia had Clinton’s emails, which is how the inquiry that became the Mueller investigation got started in the first place?
Wanted, a patriotic president: Trump invites foreigners to distort 2020 elections. Why won’t he protect his own country?
Apparently, it’s Trump himself who forgets all these things and the fallout that came with them. The Mueller report isn’t a vindication of Trump’s conduct. Under the most imaginative pro-Trump reading possible, it’s still a dire warning. Trump and his campaign avoided a felony conspiracy with the Russian government by pure dumb luck.
When a furor erupted over his comments to ABC News last week, Trump tried and failed to walk them back: “Of course” he’d look at the information, but “of course” he’d report it to law enforcement — “if I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated.” But it has been explained to him time and time again: Whether or not you report it to the FBI, which even Steve Bannon agrees is the only decent, American thing to do, accepting compromising information about a political opponent from a foreign government is a crime that can earn you up to five years in a federal prison. This is not a controversial position. The FBI says so. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch Trump ally, says so.
‘I would not have thought I needed to say this’
In the words of Ellen Weintraub, the head of the Federal Election Commission (appointed by Republican George W. Bush, if it matters), “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” She introduced the statement on Twitter with: “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”
If the Trump campaign had succeeded in its desperate quest to get the Russian government to turn over dirt on Clinton, a lot more people from the Trump campaign would be in prison today, including Donald Trump Jr. Most people would be sobered by such a near-death experience. Not Trump.
Honor among partisans: Trump calls foreign intelligence ‘oppo research.’ I call it illegal, and I should know.
“It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.”
I can almost hear people shrugging. “Oh, that’s just Trump being Trump! You have to take him seriously, not literally.” Sorry, but no. When the president says something like this, it has consequences. Here’s what Kayleigh McEnany, speaking for Trump’s reelection campaign, had to say on Thursday evening about following the president’s “directives” about campaign assistance from a foreign government.
Trump campaign’s legal director is, alas, Trump
“We follow his lead. The president is our leader, we follow everything he says, his directives,” McEnany told CBSN. “President Trump is the communications director. He’s the political director. He’s the leader of our campaign. So we follow and echo what he says.”
Most unfortunately, Trump also seems to be the campaign’s legal director. In plain language, Trump instructed his campaign to commit a felony, and the spokesperson for the campaign responded, “Yes, my leader!” I cannot think of a single more chilling thing I have ever seen in modern American political discourse. In the words of Don McGahn, the president’s ex-White House counsel, Trump is asking his people to do “crazy sh–.” But unlike McGahn, they no longer have the moral intelligence to say no.
Usually, I like to end this sort of things with a suggestion about what can be done to fix the problem. But this time, I’ve got nothing. We have a president who can’t or won’t learn from his mistakes and a large group of people fanatically devoted to that president who can no longer tell right from wrong. Trump isn’t going to get better. He only makes the people around him worse. I genuinely do not know what the solution is. But I do know that we had better find one.
Chris Truax, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and an appellate lawyer in San Diego, is on the legal advisory board of Republicans for the Rule of Law.
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