Jennifer Rubin: Democrats need to say why Trump’s praise of Wikileaks matters

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

By now you've probably seen a montage of clips showing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump praising WikiLeaks and its distribution of hacked Democratic emails. It is of course telling that Trump now says he knows nothing about WikiLeaks (if he's being truthful, he really does have an alarming memory problem), but it is far from the most important aspect of this.

What's key here is the degree to which Trump invited and praised the release of emails illegally obtained by a hostile power. Well in excess of 100 times in the closing weeks of the campaign, Trump relied on the Russian handiwork to help his election prospects.

When we see more of (or, we hope, all of) Robert Mueller's report, we will see how the special counsel characterizes this behavior. Was there insufficient evidence of conspiracy/coordination, or rather, was there parallelism in which Russia's campaign for Trump and Trump's campaign for Trump proceeded along similar lines?

The clips substantiate a key point critics of the president have made (and which apologists are only too happy to ignore): Never in our history has someone won the White House relying on and amplifying the skullduggery of an enemy of the United States. Whatever the legal ramifications, there are moral and political implications to consider.

On the moral front, Trump's cheerleading for WikiLeaks, a conduit for Russian hackers, was a celebration of a crime, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's and the Clinton campaign emails. The candidate running to be chief executive found nothing wrong with this crime - in fact, he celebrated it. Beyond that, he betrayed his country and our democracy, which posits that the American people choose our leaders in free and fair elections. Trump found nothing wrong with letting a hostile foreign power put its thumb on the scale. Anything to help him is great! That's his narcissistic mind-set.

On the political front, we will never know if Russia/WikiLeaks made Trump president. As with the actions of then-FBI Director James B. Comey, one can logically infer that some people changed their minds or decided either to vote or stay home based on these intrusions into the election. There are many "but for" causes of Hillary Clinton's loss ("but for not campaigning in Wisconsin . . . " and "but for her decision to use a private email server . . ."). What is certain is that Trump - having encouraged and reveled in Russian hacking - cannot definitively say he won this on his own. To the contrary, the problem with using a foreign power to get elected is that you deprive yourself of absolute political legitimacy.

With the imminent release of the Mueller report, it is fair to ask whether we (unbelievably) need a specific statute making illegal private or public requests for help from a foreign power and/or its surrogates. Maybe we need a law requiring campaigns, along with financial filings, to report contacts with foreign governments. That we even have to imagine such rules demonstrates the degree to which Trump and his apologists have debased themselves and undermined our democracy. Those clips of Trump praising WikiLeaks, a Russian cut-out, will live on as a constant reminder.