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How Many Times Do We Have to Say This?

Accepting information from a foreign power as part of a political campaign is illegal. I-L-L-E-G-A-L.
June 21, 2019
How Many Times Do We Have to Say This?
Putin and Trump. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Whatever President Trump has is catching.

Last week he said he’d accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government to help his campaign. On Friday, he triedand failedto walk that back, reaffirming that he’d accept the information but promising to report it to the authorities “if I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated.”

Now other congressional Republicans are chiming in saying they’d do the same thing. On Saturday, an actual member of the House Intelligence Committee, Chris Stewartwho you’d think would know bettersaid he’d happily accept intel on his opponent from “one of our close allies.” If the candidate and his campaign “look at it and its credible, I think it would be foolish not to take that information.”

Actually, it would be much worse than foolish. Accepting anything of valueincluding informationfrom a foreign government, friend or foe, as part of a political campaign is completely out of bounds. Here’s what Ellen Weintraub, the head of the Federal Election Commission had to say about it: “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.”

I’ll put this as bluntly as possible. Accepting compromising information on a political opponent from a foreign government isn’t just unethical. It’s a crime, potentially a felony that can earn you up to five years in prison. That makes it a “bad idea” by definition. This isn’t a matter for debate. There is no alternative point of view. Your opinion doesn’t matter.It is a fact.

Is this getting through yet? Are all you elected officials, including you, Mr. President, catching on? Because, if you’re not, the next step is behavior modification training involving massive legal bills and a time-out in federal custody.

There’s a perfectly good reason that the law prohibits a candidate from accepting anything of value from foreign nationals and, most especially, foreign governments. Foreign government officials don’t try to “help” an American political candidate for altruistic reasons. They’re doing it because they think it is in their interest to do so. Not America’s.

Worse, you aren’t only un-American, you are a complete idiot if you accept dirt on your opponentor anything elsefrom a foreign government. Regardless of whether you think it’s “OK,” you’ve just entered into a criminal conspiracy that could land you in prison. Your foreign handlersyou’re a foreign intelligence asset nowcan drop the dime on you whenever they want if you don’t do what they “suggest.” The word for this is “Kompromat” and it’s not only the Russians who engage in this sort of thing.

This brings us back to Rep. Stewart. What’s truly astounding about his willingness to stick his head in a foreign noose is that, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, this is exactly the kind of thing he’s supposed to be thoughtful and knowledgeable about, not to mention trying to prevent. One lives in hope that he’s not typical of the committee’s membership while also living in terror that he’s being given access to some of the world’s most sensitive intelligence information.

No American political campaign should ever accept a donation of any sort from a foreign government. Even if their intent weren’t nefarious but it always isAmerican politics is a strictly intramural sport and our elections stop at the water’s edge, whether you are running for president or dogcatcher.

To quote Ellen Weintraub again, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.” Just say “no” to foreign meddling in our elections. It not just a good idea. It’s the law.

Chris Truax

Chris Truax is an appellate lawyer in San Diego and the CEO of, the first system designed to deter foreign interference in American social media. He is a member of the Guardrails of Democracy Project.