Given Trump comments, need for law to prevent foreign meddling is apparent

President Trump still thinks it is OK to secretly accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government. For the good of American democracy, the Congress must set him straight by making it a crime not to report offers of assistance from foreign agents.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, which aired Wednesday, the president indicated he saw nothing wrong with taking damaging information about a campaign opponent from a foreign source or any need to call the FBI, as the bureau’s director, Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, has said campaigns should do.

“It’s not an interference,” Trump responded when questioned, characterizing being fed such information as akin to the opposition research campaigns often gather. “They have information — I think I’d take it.”

He would call the F.B.I. only, “If I thought there was something wrong.”

That is why Congress must make it clear it is always wrong.

Give the president his due for being consistent.

The report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller documents numerous contacts between Russian agents and the Trump 2016 campaign. The report details the eagerness of the campaign to get dirt from Russia on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. It spells out how Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager now in prison for corruption, had internal Trump campaign data forwarded to the Russian operatives, certainly aiding their work in favor of Trump’s candidacy.

The Trump campaign never reported any of that either.

Mueller concluded the conduct did not rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy. That is why the country needs a law making it a crime.

Under existing law, it is illegal for any foreign national, country, or entity to provide anything of value to a campaign, or make an expenditure to influence a U.S. election, or for a U.S. citizen to solicit or accept such assistance. The lack of any legal requirement for Americans to report offers of such assistance is a loophole the country now knows needs closing.

This should not be a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats should recognize the threat to American democracy.

Bad enough is the sway that special interest groups and Wall Street now have with our politicians in Washington because of the money they funnel into campaigns. Do we also want our elected leaders beholden to foreign governments that dig up dirt to help elect them?

And it cuts both ways. Candidates would be opened to blackmail if the sophisticated apparatus of another government found damaging information and threatened to turn it over to an opponent unless the candidate pledged fidelity to that foreign power. In the case of the 2016 campaign, it was the Russian army hacking into Democratic Party computers.

Both candidates could be thus compromised, guaranteeing foreign influence despite election results. This threat is real.

By indicating an openness to again receive such information, by not acknowledging any responsibility to report it, the president, who is supposed to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution, is essentially inviting foreign agents to hack into the political and personal data of candidates for federal office.

We again endorse The Duty to Report Act, introduced in April by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Eric Swalwell Jr., D-Calif., which would impose a legal duty on federal campaigns, candidates, and political action committees to report offers of assistance from foreign nationals to the Federal Election Commission and the FBI. The legislation also would require disclosure of all meetings between candidates or campaign officials and agents of foreign governments, other than those held in a candidate’s official capacity as an elected representative.

Sent in the Senate to the Judiciary Committee, The Duty to Report Act has gained co-sponsors Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, and Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J. Glaring is the lack of Republican support.

And given Manafort’s conduct, also needed is a law prohibiting candidates from sharing polling data and campaign strategy with foreign governments and their agents.

If the country can unite around something, it should be taking all necessary steps to prevent foreign governments, including our enemies, from manipulating our democracy.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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