It’s Either Collusion or It’s Not

My comments: For most of my adult life, I’ve attempted to stay far away from the political fray when it comes to expressing my thoughts. As a blogger in recent years, I’ve strayed from that position from time to time.

I’ve more or less made my position clear that I lean left of center. Today, that position was considered right of center some years ago before the right became somewhat radical.

What’s happening today is so far outside the bounds of normalcy that it seems to threaten the very fabric of our democratic republic. My main concern is that we need a viable two party system in this country. The GOP is pushing themselves into irrelevance and that’s not a good thing for us collectively.

These comments from William Saletan demonstrate to me the bizarre behavior of some of our erstwhile elected leaders. How is it normal to declare one thing as an absolute in 2016 and yet in 2019 declare something totally opposite?

If you and I did that in our relationships with friends and family, in our workplace environment, we’d be hounded. In my life as a investment advisor, an analogy would be declaring it a mandate for a client to max out their contribution to their retirement plan and later saying that would be foolish in the extreme. And further telling them I never said what I said before. How would I have any credibility with that client going forward?

This is not too long. But it’s enlightening in these days of relative chaos.

By William Saleton \ Oct 2, 2019 \

Two years ago, in the early days of the Russia investigation, many Republican senators said collusion with a foreign government to influence an American election would be a betrayal of the United States. They didn’t believe Donald Trump had solicited campaign help from Russia. But they agreed that if he had, it was illegal and perhaps impeachable.

Today, some of those senators—notably, the committee chairmen responsible for protecting national security and the rule of law—have renounced that principle. They now assert, in the case of Ukraine, that collusion is OK.

Sen. James Risch of Idaho is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In June 2017, he interrogated then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Collusion with the Russians—or any other government, for that matter, when it comes to our elections—certainly would be improper and illegal,” Risch stipulated. He asked Sessions, “Would that be a fair statement?” Sessions replied, “Absolutely.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed a similar view. At a press conference earlier this year, Graham, who is now the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, explained, “The big thing for me, guys, has always been: Did Trump work with the Russians? And I told him to his face, almost two years ago: ‘If you did, that’s it between me and you. And anything that follows, you deserve.’ I will say that about any politician of any party.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, espoused the same rule. The pivotal question, the Wisconsin senator insisted, was whether “members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” The United States “should be investigating, ‘Was there collusion?’ ” said Johnson. In April, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked the senator whether he agreed with Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that “it’s OK for Republican campaign members, for Republican candidates, to welcome support from a foreign adversary, from Russia. Do you feel the same way? Would you welcome support from Russia in your campaign?” Johnson replied decisively, “No.”

Then, on July 25, Trump flagrantly crossed that line. In a phone call, Trump reminded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that his country, besieged and partially occupied by Russia, depended on U.S. military aid. “We do a lot for Ukraine,” said Trump. He complained that Ukraine wasn’t providing “reciprocal” help, and he asked Zelensky for “a favor”: to work with Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr on two investigations that could help Trump in 2020. Trump explicitly named former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was, at that point, the Democrat most likely to face Trump in the general election. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution” of him, said Trump. “A lot of people want to find out about that. So whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution. So if you can look into it … ”

The phone call was open-and-shut collusion. Trump had asked a foreign government to investigate his opponent, and the request was recorded in a White House transcript. When the transcript was released on Sept. 25, it put Republican senators in a bind. They had to choose between country and party, between abandoning Trump and defending collusion.

They chose to embrace collusion.

“I looked at the transcript,” Risch told an Idaho TV station. “This conversation that the president had with the head of Ukraine is a typical conversation.” The senator argued that Trump’s statements in the call “were absolutely normal, ordinary, regular things.” When a reporter asked Risch to address the incriminating parts of the transcript, the senator talked over him and shut the conversation down, insisting, “I saw nothing in the conversation that was inappropriate. We’re done here.”

Johnson, too, fell in line. After a meeting at the White House, at which he and other Republican lawmakers received the transcript and Trump’s talking points, the senator told reporters that the transcript showed nothing wrong with the call. “We all kind of looked at it and said, ‘There’s nothing here,’ ” said Johnson. The next day, he elaborated: “I never got any sense at all there was any kind of pressure [on Zelensky]. I just put the best construction on the call.” When a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked Johnson whether he was “troubled that—even absent a quid pro quo—the president would ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent of his,” Johnson dismissed the question. “Almost everybody who is saying that is just troubled that Donald Trump is president,” the senator scoffed.

Graham, like his colleagues, says the call is fine. On Sunday, in an interview with Margaret Brennan of CBS News, he defended it line by line. Graham described Trump’s pitch to Zelensky this way: “We are very generous to the Ukraine. Other countries, like Germany, should do more. And, oh, by the way, I have heard that this prosecutor that got fired, maybe he was a good guy, and they fired him because he was looking at Joe Biden’s son. Could you look into that?”

Graham’s paraphrase of the call was, by his own previous standard, collusion. But he defended Trump’s message to Zelensky, even when Brennan cited other incriminating parts of the call. She noted that Trump, in the transcript, “brings up the Biden family and the need for an investigation. He repeatedly lays that out. And also the aid package is mentioned.” She asked Graham, “You have no problem with any of this?” Graham replied, “I have zero problems with this phone call.” Brennan persisted: “Do you think it was ethical for the president to bring up Joe Biden?” Graham replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

The president thinks these declarations of innocence exonerate him. At the White House on Wednesday, he claimed that Graham privately told him the call was unimpeachable. “Lindsey Graham said, ‘I never knew you were that nice a person,’ ” Trump told reporters. “He said, ‘You never asked [Zelensky] for anything. You were really, really nice. … That was a perfect conversation.’ ”

It’s true that the chairman of the Judiciary Committee sees nothing wrong with the conversation. Nor do the chairmen of the committees on Homeland Security and Foreign Relations. But that doesn’t mean the conversation was perfect. It means that the Republican Party no longer believes it’s wrong to enlist the help of foreign governments to win an election. It has become the party of collusion.