Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why was Don Jr.'s Russia meeting wrong?

Another civics lesson for the electorate, if we're paying attention.   Unfortunately, the majority will just pick up the talking points from FoxNews, Limbaugh, and Breitbart, if they favor Trump;  or, alternatively for liberals, from the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, and  But I have to say that the latter ones, the factual ones, will explain the civics behind it -- especially Vox, whose slogan is:  "Explaining the news."   So here goes.

It's most succinctly explained by the George W. Bush administration's former ethics chief, Richard Painter.   He has called Don Jr.'s actions with the Russian lawyer, as amplified by the email chain, "close to treason."

Don, Jr's defenders dismiss this as simply going after "opposition research," which every campaign does to get negative information about the opponent.   That's true.  But, as Painter emphasizes and as our laws read, that should never extend to working with foreign powers.  He says:

"Everybody gets opposition research, just like everybody gets campaign contributions.  But we don't get either one from foreign nationals."

Remember how many times you've read about some campaign having to return a campaign contribution because it was from a foreign national?    That's not unusual, because frankly those handling the money coming in don't always initially know anything about the person who sent it.

But, the argument goes, this Russia meeting wasn't about money.   It was supposed to be about dirt on Hillary.

If a foreign national or government is involved, it comes under a specific part of the campaign finance law that forbids contributions of anything of value -- meaning financial contributions or accommodations or assistance that would be of value -- and here reasonable interpreters include the promised "documents" or even just the anti-Clinton information.   The intangible doesn't even have to turn out to be of value;  just meeting for the purpose of getting something of value is in itself a violation.

The obvious reasoning is that allowing contributions (either monetary or other things of value) to be accepted from foreign nationals or governments means risking undue influence -- or even outright control -- being exerted over our government by foreign interests and powers.

Then we would no longer be governed by our own people.   No, if anyone's going to buy our government, they have to be Americans.


PS:  To follow my sardonic tone in that last sentence would take us afield;  but let me just say that I wish we applied the same reasoning to the influence of home-grown money on our government, just as we do foreign money.   But that's an argument for another day.   At least let's keep Putin from taking over and finishing the job he has clearly started with the Trump family.


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