American democracy requires investigation of foreign influences

Filed under COLUMNISTS, OPINION

The first few days Donald Trump’s presidency have seen what may be the beginning of the end of the Affordable Care Act, an average annual hike of $500 for middle-class homeowners’ mortgage insurance premiums, a hint at a re-invasion of Iraq and a shift in the Department of Justice’s effort to protect voting rights.

Yet, the overwhelming cloud that hangs over the Trump administration is the suggestion of Russian interference in the election. Investigators from six different US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been examining possible links between Russian officials and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Cloud over democracy
This cloud also hangs over American democracy itself. Preservation of the integrity of our democratic process depends upon the aggressive pursuit of the truth – and the full cooperation of President Trump and his advisors in that pursuit.

Media reports indicate that investigations into Trump’s Russian ties began as far back as last spring, and that there was a continuing exchange of information between the Russian government and Trump associates.

Any concrete evidence in support of these allegations would be damaging to Trump’s presidency.

Failure to investigate them would be even more damaging to the nation itself.

Democracy in America has been a work in progress from the days when only White, male – and in some states, Protestant Christian – property owners were permitted to vote. Over two centuries, the franchise was extended to non-landowners, Native Americans, women, and people of color.

Still fighting
We still are engaged in the business of expanding and protecting our democracy, fighting back racially-motivated voter suppression laws and contending with the anti-democratic effects of the Electoral College.  Our goal must be a full and true democracy, where every citizen has an equal opportunity to be heard, without the corrupting influence of foreign agents working against American interests.

If a foreign government interfered to boost one candidate’s chances, it’s not merely an affront to the losing candidate, and to every honest voting citizen. It’s an affront to American democracy.

Because President Trump was elevated to office by the anachronistic Electoral College – counter to the choice of a majority of voters – he owes the American people an exceptional level of deference. He should go to every length to demonstrate that his own conduct was above-board and beyond reproach.

Any attempt to stonewall an investigation should be viewed with the utmost skepticism.

His public statements on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have been contradictory. From 2013 to 2015, he said he had a relationship with Putin, had spoken with him and had gotten to know him.  In the third presidential debate, he said he’d never met him.

Another contradiction
In the second debate, he said he has no dealings with Russia and no businesses there. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., said in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”  This confusion should raise serious questions.

President Trump appears to be engaged in a campaign of disinformation about his election, claiming without evidence that he was denied a popular victory by millions of illegal votes.  His apparent obsession extends to making repeated false statements about attendance at his inauguration.  His preoccupation could complicate our intelligence agencies’ attempts to ferret out the truth.  It’s our hope that he will see that any failure to cooperate or to encourage a full investigation would be crippling to the nation.

During the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20, much was made about the “peaceful transfer of power” that is and should be an example for the world. But that peaceful transition depends upon the strict balance of powers as outlined in the Constitution. It’s up to our legislative and judicial branches to serve as a check on the executive, beginning with the investigation into foreign influence.

Marc Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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