By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Okay, I admit I shouldn’t have been surprised but it still landed like a ton of bricks. When ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump whether his campaign would accept information from foreigners, like Russia, regarding a political opponent or give it to the FBI, Trump said, “I think maybe you do both.” More specifically, he said “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it.” Immediately, the hairs on the back of my neck went up. I wondered if the framers of the constitution saw this coming. I scrambled to see if previous members of Congress had planned for such a scenario. The short answer is yes and no.
When crafting the principals that would guide our republic, I don’t think George Washington and the crew imagined there would be a foreigner in the White House. In fact, I’m sure they assumed that those occupying the presidency and living in the people’s house, would put the interest of the people first. Lesson one, never assume.
Evidently someone else shared that belief, because there is federal law that states “It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election; a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication; or a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation … from a foreign national.”
However, on the issue of Trump’s willingness to accept “oppo research” or damaging information from a foreign entity, the jury is out. In fact, it has been painful to watch far too many congressional legislators trip over themselves to avoid directly calling foul on Trump’s stance.
Lesson two, a law is only as good as the people put in place to enforce them.
In the case of Trump, we have been forced to realize that someone, who is a complete foreigner to our values and respect of law, could sit in the oval office. That realization beckons the question: do we have a system capable of withstanding deviations from established norms and the rule of law. Yes, we do, but…
Our system of checks and balances may be stretched thin or challenged. Some days, (okay years) it may be downright broken. Yet the system, is self-correcting through term limits, attrition, elections and legislation. It is with that understanding, that I am encouraged to hear thoughtful conversations about the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act. Introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the legislation would require candidates to report attempts at foreign elections interference.
Although the bill is likely to be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate, there have been a group of bi-partisan voices to say that foreign nations have business in our election process. Period. Full-Stop.