The American media can’t stop talking about a recent exchange President Trump had with a journalist concerning — what else! — Russian’s so-called ‘interference’ in the 2016 election. The story had finally begun to taper off, following the release of the Mueller report, when George Stephanopoulos was shown asking the President how he would behave during next year’s presidential campaign were a foreign country to offer him ‘dirt’ on his opponent. Trump said “I would welcome it — as every congressional candidate does.”
“What?!” asked the journalist. “You wouldn’t immediately call the FBI???”
To which the president — more calm and matter-of-fact than I have ever seen him, answered: “Why would I call the FBI?”
Seeing the journalist non-plussed Trump conceded that if a foreign country, “say Norway” were to offer him secret information on his opponent in next year’s election, he ‘might’ call the FBI, AFTER receiving the information. This set off a media firestorm because that behavior would be illegal under the ‘Emoluments Clause’ of the US Constitution. Reflecting the colonies’ obsession with preventing Britain from taking down their new State, it states categorically that politicians may not accept ‘anything of value’ from a foreigner, since that would give that person ‘leverage’ (a Mueller era word that refers to blackmail) over that official once elected, potentially to the detriment of the nascent republic. As an expert recently wrote : “When a foreign country offers assistance, it’s never to benefit the US, it’s to benefit that country.”
This conviction is at the bottom of Russiagate, a Russian effort to prevent Hillary Clinton, (who still wants regime change in Moscow), from becoming President. In an often-used media slight-of-hand, foreigners providing information are described as ‘interfering in America’s democracy’, a charge sure to provoke public condemnation. (When a highly respected former Republican Senator, Saxby Chambliss said political campaigns should not use information offered by foreign powers, the implication was that they were incapable of evaluating it!)
Russiagate provides a window into America’s enduring suspicion of other countries and their governments: Acceptance of information on an opponent — if it comes from a foreign source — is viewed as a potential threat to American security — as if the US were the most vulnerable country in the world instead of the most powerful! Formerly based on the myth that democratic countries don’t make war on each other, current US foreign policy, known as ‘liberal interventionism’ is intended to further Washington’s determination to remain the world’s ‘indispensable nation’), in furtherance of which the FBI is the first arbiter of ‘our democracy’.
Like most nations, the US has a judicial system whose highest level is the ‘supreme’ court. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, created in the late nineteenth century to cope with the new phenomenon of ‘gangsterism’, often plays a role in establishing whether a specific behavior should be referred to the courts. Unlike the Central Intelligence Agency, which gathers information abroad, as the US’s principal domestic intelligence and security service, the FBI’s 500 field offices across the country investigate more than 200 types of federal crimes. But since it reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI is part of the (foreign) intelligence community, with jurisdiction over the ‘emoluments clause’ of the US constitution.
As we have witnessed over the last two years with respect to the President, his children and his staff, failure to report behavior prohibited by it exposes Americans to prosecution, based on what is legally known as ‘intent’, i.e., the frame of mind associated with the commission of a crime. The video of candidate Trump inviting the Russian government to “find Hillary’s missing emails” has been played thousands of times as proof that he knowingly contravened the emoluments clause. As for Donald Trump Junior’s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, together with other members of the campaign, pundits have never mentioned that ‘adoptions’, the Russian excuse for requesting the meeting, are related to sanctions. After the death in Russian custody of an American lawyer who worked for Bill Browder, an investor and virulent critic of President Putin, Browder lobbied congress to pass The Magnitsky Act, which prevents Americans from adopting Russian children, and which, among other sanctions, the Russian government would understandably like to see lifted. Although ‘adoptions’ were a plausible excuse for seeking a meeting with persons associated with a presidential candidate, loaded with irony, the word became the lynchpin of the Russiagate saga that is still being played out, according to the rules of the game.
What seems incredible to an observer who has lived in half a dozen other countries, is the fact that as America’s real watchdog, the FBI is authorized to monitor the President’s conversations with other leaders. iPresident Trump was criticized for leaving his seat at a G20 Summit to confer with Putin, and also when he confiscated the translator’s notes from their tete a tete in Helsinki, suggesting that the FBI is above the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, a situation vociferously condemned when it occurs elsewhere…
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years. She can be reached at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.