Foreign Interference in Our Elections

Lest you start with the wrong idea, I have NOT gone soft on “the Russia thing” at all. But I think there are some basic problems with liberal discussion of the subject that are being overlooked in the eagerness to get Trump.

The “Russia thing” boils down to the fact that the Russians deliberately set out to tilt our election against Clinton.

Our media is focused on the assertion that there may have been collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But it is unclear what that means from a legal point of view.

We have laws that strictly limit ownership of domestic TV and radio stations by foreigners out of fear that they might interfere in our elections. And those laws are pretty well enforced, so “all news all the time” cannot be too easily be converted into “all propaganda all the time”.

But the threat of brain washing has radically changed since the advent of the internet, when traditional national borders essentially ceased to be an obstacle to information flows.

We also have laws that supposedly prohibit foreign money from being spent in and on our elections. Those laws are taken pretty seriously BUT they are also are pretty easy to circumvent because money is fungible and can easily pass into our election processes.

The Russian investigation underway hopefully will get to the facts. But when it gets there, it just may turn out there really is no there there?

We already know from Putin that perhaps some Russian hackers made efforts to influence our election. What we do not yet see are provable links to Putin himself and we similarly do not have yet hard evidence that Trump buddies ever actually solicited support from Russia.

That inevitably leads to very hard questions.

Let us suppose that Putin fully admits that he “encouraged” those so-called hackers. Is that a crime in Russia and/or the United States?  That is unclear to me.

Let’s also suppose that Flynn and/or Kushner etc. admit to having solicited non-financial support. Is that a crime in Russia or the United States? That, too, is unclear to me, despite the fact that it stinks.

So where does this leave us and what might we do about it?

Trump may turn out to be right that “no one in his campaign broke any laws”. If that should happen, Trump will come out way ahead and his supporters will be further emboldened to encourage him to be ever more outrageous.

So what can we do?

We must lay out and explain better to the public what ”the Russia thing” really is and explain that it is WRONG even if it may in fact NOT have been illegal. Today’s wide expectation on the left is that Trump or his hangers-on actually acted illegally and that there will be appropriate consequences. That expectation needs to be clarified.

We should turn our attention to the future and modify our laws about any use of money—directly and indirectly—by foreigners in our elections and really close down as tight as possible those trouble-making dollars. That should be accompanied by legal clarification about what illegal collusion really is and make solicitations of foreign powers by Americans illegal and attach to both large fines and long jail terms.

Yes, the “Russia thing” is a big deal. There is an old wisdom in the law that hard cases make bad law.

This case appears to me to be a very hard case at the moment.

We should use it carefully as a clear and present warning and confine ourselves to fixing the issues for the future, about which there is already a political consensus

If we allow hollow expectations to continue to be too great, we well may lose precious ground to Trump and engender a further emboldened “nut case”, to borrow Trump’s description of Comey.

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