Tribune Editorial: Republicans must stand against election interference

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence Is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government.”

George Washington, Farewell Address, Sept. 17, 1796

This nation requires (at least) two strong political parties. And some Republicans are now faced with a question as to whether they want to continue to be one of them.

After more than two years of dutifully standing by a president who was nominated by their own party, with only an occasional tsk-tsk pointed in his direction, Republican members of Congress appear to be less than happy with a chief executive who seems perfectly comfortable with the idea that foreign governments might want to curry favor by providing him with damaging information about his political rivals.

It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” the president 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.

There are no “ifs” about it. A candidate for public office accepting anything of value from a foreign government is something wrong. The head of the FBI says so. The head of the Federal Election Commission says so.

“I would not have thought that I needed to say this,” tweeted Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC, directing attention to an official statement that said, "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. This is not a novel concept.“

Mitt Romney says so.

The senator from Utah, who has been no big fan of the president since well before he was elected, made it clear Thursday that the president’s no-big-deal attitude toward the question of foreign interference is more than troubling.

"Accepting the work product of a foreign government or the effort of a foreign government to try and influence an election of one candidate or another? It simply strikes at the heart of our democracy,” Romney told Politico. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, generally one of the president’s more forgiving enablers, apparently told the president to his face that taking campaign information from any foreign government or national is something no American politician should do. And that, if the president doesn’t see that, it will send a message to both their governments and our politicians that a barrier has been crossed.

Meanwhile, one of the president’s more enthusiastic toadies, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, is on CNN saying that it makes perfect sense for an American politician to accept information on rival candidates from a foreign source because it might be “valuable.” Valuable to whom?

What is not being made clear to the president, or to Stewart, perhaps because everyone else thinks it is so obvious as to go without saying, is that a president or member of Congress who is elected with the help of a foreign government will be, consciously or not, beholden to that government. He will owe them something or, worse, be subject to blackmail.

The founders saw that. Their speeches, letters and essays contained many expressions of concern that democracy and elections are far too open to, as John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “foreign Interference, Intrigue and Influence.” That fear was a large part of the reason why the Constitution includes provisions for impeaching and removing a president who might have fallen into that trap.

Even if impeachment is not something that should or will happen in the current circumstance, it is high time for Republicans in Congress to put loyalty to their nation and duty to their branch of government ahead of blind partisanship. Otherwise, the future usefulness of the Republican Party as either a governing majority or a credible counter-balance to a future Democratic administration is questionable at best.

And that would be something wrong.