President Donald Trump reached a new low in his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, when he admitted that he was willing to listen to a foreign government if they approached him with information on a political rival.
“I think I’d take it,” he said. He also said he might not tell the Federal Bureau of Investigation about it, even though FBI Director Christopher Wray said that such offers of foreign assistance should be reported.
Yes, Mr. President, there is something wrong with listening to an agent of a foreign country – especially Russia – when the clear intention on providing you, Don Jr. or anyone else on Team Trump with useful dirt on an actual or potential Democratic rival is to curry favor with you and your administration, knowing that you will thereafter feel politically indebted to that foreign power. In other words, you will be even more compromised than you already are based upon the numerous favors that Russia did for you both before, during and after the 2016 election.
When more than a day passed without the White House, the Justice Department or any senior administration official “correcting” Trump’s statement and clarifying that such a receipt of a “thing of value,” namely opposition research, from a foreign national is as much of a clear violation of federal election law as the receipt of an unreported cash contribution from a foreign entity, finally Federal Election Commission chief Ellen Weintraub was forced to step up to the plate and say the obvious: “Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation,” she said in her statement. “Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and virtually every other Republican in the chamber kept their collective mouth shut and looked the other way, with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and a few others who began to mumble their disagreement with the president’s approach, which seemed to be inviting Russia, China, North Korea and other hostile foreign powers to find “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and other leading Democratic candidates, so that it could be delivered on a silver platter to a grateful Donald Trump, who would reward them generously if only they helped him cling to power for another four years.
Where are the Republicans who are finally willing to join with their Democratic colleagues in Congress and say: “Enough is enough. You cannot go on like this, breaking every legal and political norm in our carefully balanced democratic system. We are a country where the rule of law is king, not some crafty demagogue such as yourself who rules solely through the exercise of fear and raw power.”
Where is our Joe Welch? On June 9, 1954, a Boston lawyer named Joseph Nye Welch confronted the most powerful demagogue of his time, Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who was the chief proponent of the “Red Scare” conspiracy theory that the U.S. federal agencies, military branches and Hollywood had become so infiltrated with card-carrying Communists and their “fellow travelers” that American was in imminent danger of a coup. McCarthy destroyed countless lives and reputations with his reckless accusation, but he went too far when he attacked a young lawyer in Welch’s law firm.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You’ve done enough,” Welch said. “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
With these few words, and with millions of Americans watching the televised hearings, the “Red Scare” fever seemed to break almost instantaneously, and on December 2, 1954, the Senate voted 67-22 to censure McCarthy, making him one of only a very few senators in American history to ever be so disciplined.
Trump, like McCarthy, has crossed the line of civility and propriety so many times over the last few years that we have trouble remembering how presidents used to act and speak: inspiring us to accomplish great things; providing us with hope and solace in times of crisis, mass shootings and natural disasters; and defending democratic institutions and ideals whenever they are threatened, whether at home or elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps now, after years of Trump’s boorishness and open invitations to Russia and other hostile foreign powers to meddle with our democratic processes, we have finally had enough. Mr. President, at long last have you no shame? If you do not, then it is time for you give up the great office that you have demeaned and diminished – either voluntarily or, if necessary, involuntarily by way of impeachment or at the ballot box. Either way, you must know that there is a growing chill in the air, that your days are numbered and that your silent Republican colleagues will pay a great price for the Mephistophelean bargain they have struck these past few years.
Kenneth F. McCallion is a former federal prosecutor and special assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice and New York State Attorney General’s Office, and author of “Treason and Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual 1.”
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