Gehrke: Utah’s Stewart and Chaffetz make foolish excuses for Trump illegal stance

Robert Gehrke

Put yourself in the shoes of a political candidate for just a moment. You’ve suddenly been contacted by agents working for a foreign government peddling information that would be damaging to your opponent.

What would you do?

We now know what Rep. Chris Stewart would do.

“There might be valuable information that comes from one of our allies,” Stewart, R-Utah, said in an interview on CNN last week. “If they look at it and it’s credible, I think it would be foolish not to take it.”

Foolish NOT to take it? Every Utahn, regardless of party, should be troubled by that kind of casual indifference to any foreign government — friend or foe — attempting to sway our democracy.

Not to mention, it’s illegal and always has been, a point reiterated by Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission.

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” she wrote. “This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation.”

This discussion, of course, came about as a result of President Donald Trump’s nonchalant answer to a question of whether his 2020 campaign would accept “dirt” from foreign agents.

“I think I’d take it,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.”

Never mind that there is something fundamentally wrong with taking the information in the first place, no matter what it is.

It’s almost as if Trump hasn’t paid attention to or learned anything from what has transpired over the past three years. I’m almost certain he didn’t read Volume I of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, that’s the one that detailed Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 election to help Trump’s campaign.

The Mueller probe documented “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” links that were brought to the FBI’s attention by another foreign government and not by anyone on the Trump campaign. So in that sense, Trump’s answer should not come as a surprise and wasn’t really much of a hypothetical.

But Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which conducted its own investigation into the Russian interference, should know better.

In fairness to Stewart, in other interviews he came closer to criticizing Trump’s response, but still cast his feelings with a needless and misleading partisan “what-about-ism.”

“I’ve criticized Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee for two years for doing exactly that,” he said. “It would be fairly inconsistent of me not to say the president shouldn’t do it either.”

The problem with that is that even the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee investigation — which, again, Stewart was part of — said that what Clinton did was legal. And, yes, it would be inconsistent for Stewart “not to say the president shouldn’t do it.”

So say it, already.

Say it clearly and categorically, like Sen. Mitt Romney said it: “It simply strikes at the heart of our democracy,” he told Politico. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”

Having said that much, we’ll wait to see if Romney backs his words up with actions.

At least Stewart’s equivocation was not as shameful and self-demeaning as the excuses offered by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Fox News.

The media “are faking the idea that they’re exasperated by the president’s answer. Of course he can listen,” Chaffetz said. “Every single campaign I know of would listen to that material first.”

That defense earned an “attaboy” tweet from Trump, who naturally never misses his Fox News.

There really were two takeaways from this: First, if Chaffetz’s moral compass is so broken that he believes “every single campaign” would work with foreign powers to get the upper hand in an election, we should all be immensely grateful that he took himself out of Utah’s governor’s race.

And a second and more important truth is that unscrupulous hacks like Stewart and Chaffetz are willing to do just about anything, abandoning all principles and reason, to excuse this president’s foolishness, even if that means putting the Republican Party ahead of our nation’s democracy.

And that is a sad commentary, indeed.