On Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan published an op-ed warning of the dire consequences that could follow if President Donald Trump is not held to account for trying to strong-arm the government of Ukraine to help him promote a conspiracy theory about former Vice President Joe Biden.
"Start with the basic problem of asking another country to conduct an investigation of one of our political candidates, or of any U.S. citizen, for that matter," wrote Kagan. "Setting aside for a moment the propriety of using U.S. power and influence to serve a president’s narrow political purposes, how could we ever be sure such an investigation was conducted fairly? Or whether it was conducted at all? We have no control over the manner of another nation’s investigation, no way of monitoring the behavior of another country’s law enforcement officials, no control or insight into what standards they might apply and what investigative methods they might use. We would have to accept the word of another government without having any assurance the finding was valid. It’s a safe bet that many would not trust even Britain or France to investigate a U.S. citizen’s behavior — though they would have every reason to. After all, millions of Americans don’t even trust the FBI. But Ukraine?"
"But that is just part of the problem," continued Kagan. "Consider what it will mean if we decide that what Trump and Giuliani have already acknowledged doing in Ukraine becomes an acceptable practice for all future presidents. Sending the signal that other governments can curry favor with a U.S. president by helping to dig up dirt on his or her political opponents would open our political system and foreign policy to intervention and manipulation on a global scale. Every government in the world wishing to influence U.S. foreign policy will have an incentive to come to a sitting president with information on his or her potential political opponents."
The consequences of such a precedent, Kagan wrote, could be enormous.
"That information might be related to investments or other financial dealings in a particular country, as in Ukraine," wrote Kagan. "Or it might have to do with the behavior of a particular individual while traveling abroad — who he or she sees and what he or she does. Other governments will therefore have an incentive to conduct surveillance of political figures traveling through their countries on the off chance of gleaning some bit of information that could be traded in Washington for some favor."
"Today, foreign leaders come calling with golf clubs and promises of greater market access to win a U.S. president’s favor. What if they came with secret transcripts and videos, or promises of investigations?" concluded Kagan. "If we legitimize this kind of behavior by a U.S. president, if no price is paid for this kind of conduct, it will be open season on the American political system."