Trump's Russia Admission Is No Mere Scandal. It's a Betrayal.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- During a presidential campaign, accepting help from Russia “to get information on an opponent” is an ugly and unpatriotic act. It casts contempt on the countless people who have put their lives on the line for our republic and the principles for which it stands.
In 2007 and 2008, I was honored to work with the campaign of Senator Barack Obama as an occasional, informal adviser. I received plenty of ideas from friends, acquaintances and strangers about how to win the presidency.
No offers of help came from anyone associated with a foreign government. But if they had, my only question would have been this: Do I go directly to the FBI, or do I go to people in a higher position in the campaign, and ask them to go directly to the FBI?
Like many millions of Americans (Republicans and Democrats alike), I had long been hoping that the 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower, including Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer connected with the Kremlin, involved issues of adoption policy (as the White House previously told us).
Last weekend, President Donald Trump disclosed, “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent.”
Americans should never forget that the Soviet Union played a heroic and indispensable role in winning World War II. And Trump is right to insist that the United States has a keen interest in maintaining a peaceful, cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.
But it should go without saying that the highest loyalty of any candidate, and any president, is to his nation, not to electoral victory. The Russian government has been working to weaken, undermine and destabilize our country.
No candidate for high office, and no presidential campaign, should even think about accepting Russia’s help “to get information on an opponent.”
This conclusion is not merely a matter of common sense. It is linked with the deepest fears of those who founded our nation. Many people are puzzled by the constitutional provision limiting eligibility for the presidency to “natural born” citizens. But it attests to the founders’ desire to ensure something they prized perhaps above all: loyalty.
In the decisive debates over the impeachment clause, James Madison pointed to the risk that a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Focusing on the electoral process itself, George Mason asked, “Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment?”
As far as I am aware, there is as yet no evidence that the meeting at Trump Tower had any effect on the 2016 election, or that the president knew about the meeting at the time. But here is a general principle: Successfully enlisting Russia’s help to procure the presidency would count as a high crime or misdemeanor within the meaning of the impeachment clause – whether or not it’s technically a crime within federal law.
But is it a federal crime? Federal law makes it unlawful “to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation . . . from a foreign national.” A contribution includes “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Lawyers are now discussing, and disputing, whether “information on an opponent” counts as “anything of value.”
Let’s put the legal niceties to one side. In my view, it was reasonable for President Trump to say that as a matter of principle, professional athletes ought to show respect for the American flag and the national anthem. “E pluribus unum” is the motto on the nation’s seal. It dates from the period of the Revolutionary War.
Seeking Russia’s help, to get “information on an opponent,” is worse than a scandal. It is a betrayal.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Cass R. Sunstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the author of "The Cost-Benefit Revolution" and co-author of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.”
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