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‘Foreign Interference’: Trump’s Comments and Democrats’ Hyp…

‘Foreign Interference’: Trump’s Comments and Democrats’ Hyp…


President Trump talks to reporters at the White House, March 20, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

When a Republican benefits, it’s treason; when Democrats are in charge, the intelligence agencies serve their candidates.

Here’s the main question that arises from Media-Democrat shrieking over President Trump’s twaddle about taking campaign-related information from foreign powers: Is it just silly or actually dangerous?

In our latest episode of Un-reality Government, the president was egged on by — who else? — George Stephanopoulos, a partisan Democrat who is the face of ABC News. When last noticed in an election cycle, the Clinton confidant was setting up Mitt Romney with a question about whether the Constitution permitted the banning of contraceptives. Of course, no one was proposing a ban on contraceptives; the question was strategically planted to seed the Democrats’ War on Women narrative. Common sense, if there were any, would have the administration asking: Why would we give George Stephanopoulos two days of access? If your answer is “Because that worked out so well with Michael Wolff,” pull that résumé together, because there’s surely a White House staff job waiting just for you.

So what did George ask this time? He wanted to know whether, with the lessons of 2016 in mind, the president thought it would be appropriate to let a foreign government “interfere” in our elections by taking from that government information damaging to the opposing candidate.

Naturally, Stephanopoulos did not preface his query with, “You know, the way that Ukrainian parliamentarian who was a source for Hillary’s campaign leaked that oppo about the secret payments to Manafort.” And the president was not swift enough to ask Stephanopoulos for clarification: “You mean, like, an amateur-hour arrangement where I, or my son, take the information directly from Russia? Does it count if I’m smart enough to have my cut-out law firm hire the cut-out grifters from Fusion GPS, and then they do the dirty work of hiring the foreign spy to tap the Russian sources — in their spare time from helping Putin’s cronies beat back the Justice Department?”

In his staccato style, Trump appeared to respond that it would be all right to accept the information (because mere information is “not an interference” in an election); but he left ambiguous whether he’d notify the FBI of the foreign contact: “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 it was something wrong.”

The president elaborated with a hypothetical: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said,] ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

I know, you’re thinking, “Those sly Norwegians . . .” I found myself wishing that, instead of Norway, the president had reached another 500 miles eastward, to Estonia, for his example. Then he could have made two points to demonstrate the speciousness and hypocrisy of Stephanopoulos’s line of inquiry.


Point One: Friend or Foe?

The first point involves whether a country is an ally or adversary. Stephanopoulos specifically asked about “interference” from China and Russia, countries that are hostile. (To be more accurate, they are countries whose hostility Democrats now perceive temporary advantage in acknowledging — not to worry; they’ll go back to “why can’t we be friends?” mode the moment Trump is gone.) But if campaign information were to come from Estonia, Norway, or some other friendly country, that could be very different. Not all information that could “interfere” in an election is the same. The source matters.

Note that Democrats such as Stephanopoulos have to ask what the president thinks should be done if such information is offered. There is no legal mandate here. Democrats are forced to conjure up a new ethical duty to report outreach from foreign governments because it is not against the law to take information. We are not dealing with a crime, and there is no legal duty to report anything to the FBI.

Besides being a law-enforcement agency, the FBI is our domestic security service, guarding against foreign threats. As such, besides taking reports about crime, the bureau is in the intelligence business. The Democrats’ point, then, is that even if it is not illegal to take information from a foreign regime that may be trying to influence an American election, the FBI should nevertheless be told because the foreign outreach may have counterintelligence significance.

But how much significance? That could depend on whether the country offering the information is friend or foe. If Russia is calling to give the president information about a political opponent, odds are it is making mischief. But what if the call relaying such information comes from, say, Canada? While it is possible that this could be nefarious, it is more likely that, like a good neighbor, Canada would be trying to warn the president about some peril to American interests.


Point Two: Situational Ethics

Which brings us to the second point and my reference to Estonia. In the 2016 election, Estonia did call President Obama’s administration to provide opposition research — specifically, to convey unverified intelligence that Russia might be channeling money into the Trump campaign. The Brits provided information too. So did the Aussies. So, according to former CIA director John Brennan, did a number of European governments.

To be sure, these countries are our allies. But that hardly means they were concerned only for our well-being. Like Brennan, they had their own anti-Trump agendas. The foreign-affairs component of Trump’s populist platform seemed to be: better relations with Putin, NATO bashing, skepticism about American interventions and military commitments,…

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