President Trump is not terribly adept at expressing complex arguments cogently, and our major media is not terribly interested in explaining Trump’s arguments fairly. The result is a repetitive dance of breathless accusation, indignant denial, and a misled and confused public.
In the most recent rendition of this waltz, the major media told us that Trump was “inviting election interference” by Russia and other evil actors by refusing to give George Stephanopoulos the answer he wanted to some vague questions about opposition research from foreign countries. Trump defended his son’s acceptance of an offer of political dirt from a Russian lawyer, and suggested anyone would.
At another point, Trump said that if foreigners offered him dirt he would listen, and afterward call the FBI “if I thought there was something wrong.” There are many ways to interpret Trump’s words. A debate over “what Trump meant” could be endless, as it always is, thanks to his imprecision and most of the media’s appetite for setting aside all nuance and destroying him regardless of his meaning.
Did he contradict himself in the ABC News interview? Did he “walk back” his comments in the Fox News interview? Those are open questions, and frankly they’re second-degree questions. The primary question is this: What should the president or a presidential candidate do if offered opposition research by a foreign power? The answer, of course, is, it depends.
The puritanical answer Stephanopoulos and much of the media apparently wanted was never! Foreigners must play no role in America’s elections! In fact, a presidential candidate shouldn’t even talk to a foreigner during the campaign! Well, except for Christopher Steele. And John Oliver and Trevor Noah, of course.
Its okay if those foreigners interfere in our elections. That only begins to illustrate how silly it all is. If Norway’s government produced banking records showing Pete Buttigieg taking payments from a Russian oil company, should we expect Trump not to care because it comes from Norwegians? Or should we simply let the FBI handle it, while Trump refuses to use the information in the campaign because of its provenance? If Scotland had evidence that Trump’s golf course was a front for running arms to Moscow, would it be wrong for Joe Biden to make use of the information? We’d expect any candidate to listen to potentially relevant dirt on an opponent.
Wed also expect him to inform the relevant law enforcement agency if it looked like the opponent really was breaking U.S. law, or if it looked like foreigners were spying on the United States. Moreover, we would expect all candidates to avoid repeating anything that looks like strategic disinformation.
. Which is to say, the prudent course of action would be to listen and then to call the FBI afterward. Trump more or.....