Saturday, December 14, 2019

When it comes to foreign election interference, the Republicans have their heads in sand or up some part of Trump's anatomy

An essential question in the impeachment proceedings is whether the United States president is allowed to solicit foreign assistance and thus interfere with an election. The Dems, appealing to the constitution, say no. The Trumpublicans have different responses.

One response is to dodge the a question as AZ Rep. Debbie Lesko did. Steve Benen (MSNBC/Maddow Blog) reported on the Arizona Republican in denial about core impeachment detail.

Since Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal first came to public light a few months ago, Republicans have confronted a question that’s simple but difficult to answer: should an American president press a foreign country to go after a domestic political rival?

A few too many GOP lawmakers – most notably Iowa’s Joni Ernst and Colorado’s Cory Gardner – struggled mightily with the question early on, refusing to say much of anything. Others soon realized this was unsustainable, conceded that presidents should not seek foreign campaign assistance, and looked for other ways to excuse Trump’s misdeeds.

This morning [Friday], however, CNN’s Manu Raju spoke to Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) about this foundational element of the overall scandal, and according to what the Capitol Hill reporter posted to Twitter, the exchange didn’t go especially well.

Q: Why is it ever ok for an American president to ask a foreign power to investigate a political rival? Why do you think that’s ok?

Lesko: “He didn’t. He didn’t do that”

Manu: He did ask Zelensky

Lesko: “He did not do that.”

It’s really not a trick question. Either it’s acceptable for presidents to ask foreign governments to go after domestic political rivals or it’s not. In this case, Trump’s allies can try to argue that it is acceptable behavior; they can make the case that it doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense; or they can agree with impeachment proponents and vote for the pending articles.

What GOP members – especially those on the Judiciary Committee, on which Debbie Lesko currently serves – shouldn’t do is pretend up is down and reality has no meaning.

The second response is to justify the president’s behavior, arguing that it is not only acceptable but normal. Hunter at the Daily Kos Staff reports on a House Republican: Yes, Trump is allowed to directly solicit foreign election interference.

Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe, a fervent Trump supporter, was the Republican to finally take up Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s challenge for someone to defend the specific principle of a United States president being in the right to ask a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election. Ratcliffe says yes, presidents are allowed to do it. He also made the false claim that it happens all the time.

As he has throughout these hearings, Ratcliffe is lying. Ratcliffe pins his theory on the notion that it was the Obama administration that sought foreign interference by investigating Trump—but intelligence officials were basing their concerns about members of the Trump campaign not on administration requests for a probe, but after alarms were raised about numerous suspicious foreign contacts by individuals who had connected themselves to the campaign. Australian intelligence warned its American counterpart of George Papadopoulos’ brag of Russian ties; Paul Manafort’s dealings with pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs were cause for alarm apart from his for-free work on the Trump campaign, and the revelation of that work would quickly cause Trump to cut him loose.

As he has throughout his Trump defense, Ratcliffe is ignoring evidence to spin whichever overt lie would best advantage Trump. He is insisting that any law enforcement investigation of a campaign or candidate—which, despite his own amnesia, happened to both presidential candidates, and only one of those investigations was leaked incessantly by federal authorities during the last months of the election—is exactly equivalent to a president directly withholding military aid to an ally unless it grants a list of specific personal favors. He claims to be unable to tell the difference between everyday acts and criminal ones, and that we should take him, and his allies, at their word.

This is the answer Rep. Jayapal was fishing for, and the answer that should alarm every voter: Yes, a House Republican is asserting that using the tools of government to extort foreign countries into granting personal favors is not just defensible behavior, but commonplace. From this we can assume with near certainty that Ratcliffe—and, presumably, Devin Nunes, and each member whose campaign may have been a beneficiary of Lev Parnas’ Russian cash—considers it acceptable to break those laws himself.

In a time of rampant administration and congressional corruption (see: Duncan Hunter), the blanket assertion by House and Senate Republicans that their candidates are allowed to break U.S. law to advantage themselves in their elections is a crisis of democracy. Ratcliffe, and more critically senators such as Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, are attempting to institutionalize that lawbreaking as legitimate, if that lawbreaking works to their advantage. It is, indisputably, a fascist moment.

Rep. Jayapal has her answer. No House Republican was willing to say that demanding foreign election interference was improper. House Republicans instead make it clear that the Republican Party will do exactly that.

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