According to a report at the Daily Beast, officials in the State Department and the U.S. intelligence community are fearful that Donald Trump will use the fact that the GOP-controlled Senate will likely acquit him in his impeachment trial and will then ramp up more secret diplomacy with America’s enemies and foes alike.
According to the report, “Late into Wednesday’s session of the Senate impeachment trial, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) asked a question of President Trump’s defense team: did they think foreign involvement in U.S. elections was illegal? The Trump team’s reply: nope. ‘Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws,’ responded White House Deputy Counsel Patrick Philbin.”
That answer, the Beast reports, has longtime government diplomats and security officials in a panic at the notion of more back-channel talks between close associates of Trump and foreign officials that could become dangerous due to lack of expertise and oversight.
“The question was asked with a focus on Trump’s open encouragement of Russian help in the 2016 election. And it was answered against the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power—his attempts to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating his political rival by withholding U.S. aid,” the report states. “To many senators listening, these arguments flung open the doors for Trump, or any future president or candidate for office, to engage in that kind of behavior again, knowing that it had been defended by White House lawyers on the Senate floor. Earlier that day, Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz had already gone even further, arguing that Trump could justify his actions with the reasonable belief that his re-election would be in the country’s interest.”
According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), “This trial may be seen as a vindication of those very dangerous ideas that foreign interference can be accepted… that the president can do anything as long as his motives are to re-elect himself, and he thinks it’s in the public interest.”
“It’s not hard to imagine the Pandora’s box that such an environment could unleash. Different countries could do battle with each other in the arena of U.S. politics, for example, arming different campaigns with weaponized dirt,” the Beast reports states. “Whatever the White House says in the face of Trump’s ultimate acquittal in the Senate, U.S. administration officials and foreign officials acknowledge Trump will increasingly manufacture his own foreign policy decisions, with his personal associates, without the input of his intelligence and national security agencies. That means Trump will more likely have the ability to run his personal political errands—and business agenda—with little, if any, scrutiny. And when that scheme falls apart, and Trump’s personal associates turn on him, or decide to detail the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, the U.S. will lose credibility on the world stage.”
The report notes that “career civil servants, including some of the administration’s current and former top national security officials” are disturbed by the prospect ” that the American political system will systematically be compromised by American adversaries and that the foundation of the country’s democracy will be peeled away. And with rogue actors with practically zero experience running the foreign policy channels, off-book, without any oversight, then that scenario—one where the U.S. becomes something of an international cat’s-paw, in a sense—is increasingly likely to happen.”
As one senior official lamented, “The acquittal will just be another reminder that that kind of behavior is OK. And what’s scary is that it will have real-time national security consequences.”
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