Ominous signals were emanating from the Republican leadership in Washington last week as they pushed to curtail the House and Senate investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. Although the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation appeared to start on a bipartisan footing, it may now end early next year with conflicting Republican majority and Democratic minority reports that leave many questions unanswered.
These congressional investigations differ from those being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Congress should uncover the full story of Russian cyberattacks and provide a comprehensive report to the public. Mueller’s inquiry is strictly to determine if crimes were committed. Consequently, we may not learn much about the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russians from Mueller unless someone in the campaign committed a crime in the process. The recent indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates do not involve the Trump campaign.
But there is another crucial question to be answered about Russian cyberattacks. Is the government taking adequate measures to prevent future foreign government interference in our elections? U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked this question during an October 18 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He simply answered, “We’re not.”
I believe past presidents and congressional leaders of both parties would have demanded immediate action to protect our election process. But President Trump and congressional Republicans have political reasons to sweep this issue under the rug — at the expense of national security. I think this is a shameful violation of their oath to protect and defend the Constitution.
But affronts to the Constitution by Trump and his Republican enablers seem to be the trend.
Trump appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as co-chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach is one of the chief architects of state laws to disenfranchise minority voters and purge them from voter rolls. Kobach’s mission is to show that Trump would have won the popular vote last year but for widespread illegal voting but I think he is also gathering information for more voter suppression.
What could be more fundamentally damaging to the Constitution than to discredit the media and threaten freedom of the press? Republicans have long targeted the media as “liberal” and biased. But Trump has taken these attacks to much higher level. He calls unfavorable reports “fake news’ and the media “the enemy of the American people.” Trump wants stronger libel laws that would make it easier to sue news reporters and he suggested that NBC should lose its license to broadcast because he didn’t like what they were reporting. NBC is not licensed as such, but the threat is still very alarming.
Sadly, Trump must be achieving some success with these attacks. According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, 76 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of independents believe the media fabricates stories about Trump and his administration. Does this mean the majority of these individuals will reject clear evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians or that he obstructed justice? Will public doubt enable a Republican-controlled Congress to reject articles of impeachment aginst Trump no matter what his crimes?
The Constitution is all about the rule of law. But Trump attacks judges that displease him and brands Clinton and others as crooks with no evidence that they committed a crime. What type of jurists will he choose for the hundreds of federal judges he will appoint? Trump’s former chief advisor Steve Bannon will no doubt help him find judges who are clones of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Moore recently secured the Alabama Republican nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in an upcoming special election despite the fact that he was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for violating judicial ethics. Moore has refused to take a stand on whether homosexual Americans should be executed and he has claimed that duly elected Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress.
Yet Moore received enthusiastic endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who lauded Moore’s integrity and his commitment to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Az.) may be the only Republican senator who has spoken out against Moore’s opinions saying “that’s not our party, that is not us.” But Flake will be out of the Senate in 2019 and Moore will likely be in.
Even normally level-headed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) endorsed Moore saying he will be “a tireless advocate led by principle rather than politics.” Senators like Cornyn are either putting party before country or they fear attacks from Trump’s rabid supporters like Bannon and Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Either way endorsements or tacit approval of a radical like Roy Moore should tell us volumes about where the GOP is headed.
I believe Trump, along with his supporters in Congress and the right-wing media, is pushing this country toward a critical crossroads. Will this nation adopt the bigotry and white nationalism that they are advocating? Will Trump further subvert the First Amendment and voting rights with the help of Bannon and far-right zealots like Roy Moore?
How many will follow as Trump and the Republican Party recklessly diverges from the path that the Founders established? For now, voters have a choice. The direction they take will make all the difference for our democracy.