Trump dealt with Russians before becoming president

“Our job is not done,” said Gov. LePage told the Legislature in his State of the State address.

He stressed that he plans to be an active, if not downright aggressive, governor until the last minute of his term at the end of the year.

And he was right. We elect governors and presidents for fixed terms of office, and they owe us their active service for the full period – to the last day. Lame duck status, after a successor has been elected but has not yet taken office, should not be an excuse for fading out or, worse, allowing the successor to take charge prematurely.

The newly elected person may begin to think they already have official powers. In fact, they have no more right to govern than any unelected, private citizen.

During the campaign, Obama had held back on strong presidential action on Russian involvement in the election, because he did not want to seem overly partisan by countering attacks on Hillary Clinton, his party’s candidate.

The president is not a neutral, saintly figure, who must avoid tough talk and remain above the political fray. Obama should have done a better job alerting the public to Russian attempts to influence their votes. He should have worried less about the effect on the campaign and more about the effect on the country.

After the election, Obama placed tough sanctions on Russia for its election meddling. But Trump’s staff undermined this Russia policy by promising the Russians the new president would back off Obama’s sanctions.

President-elect Trump seems to have thought that his victory gave him some official powers, and he and his staff began taking on presidential attributes to which they were not entitled. Like LePage, Obama should have forcefully reminded Trump that he remained in charge.

It is hardly a mystery that Trump wants to erase every trace of the Obama presidency he can. One way was to project friendship with Russia and Putin, its president, while Obama was struggling to maintain a policy opposing Russia’s takeover of Crimea and meddling in American politics. Obviously, Trump intended to undermine the sitting president.

Whatever comes out of the Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation, there is ample evidence that Trump staffers made quasi-diplomatic contact with the Russian and other governments, well before he took the oath of office. They apparently believed that such contacts were allowed and appropriate.

Much has been made of the contacts between past presidential winners, not yet inaugurated, and foreign officials. These exchanges have been designed to allow people to become personally acquainted, not to undermine the current president. Certainly, presidents-elect should not conduct their own foreign policy before taking office.

The Trump staff contacts in the lame duck period look like violations of the Logan Act, aimed at preventing private individuals from acting like they were official government negotiators with foreign governments.

The Trump team may be more vulnerable for overstepping their legal limits than for the still unproven collusion with Russians during the campaign. It is unlikely he will suffer any adverse consequences for his lame duck period actions.

Mueller has revealed hard evidence that the Russians aimed at disrupting the American political system, including helping Trump and undermining Hillary Clinton. There is no remaining doubt that the Trump campaign knew what the Russians were trying to do and did not blow the whistle.

As Trump regularly insists, no evidence has been provided that his campaign colluded with the Russians in this effort. But Mueller’s investigation goes well beyond the question of links between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Russia has tried to disrupt American democracy. His findings should be a cause of great concern.

Trump focuses on whether foreign support made his surprise victory possible, not the broader harm from Russian meddling. He is more concerned about protecting himself than protecting the sanctity of the American political system.

Trump worries about whether his presidency will lose its legitimacy if it is found that the Russians helped him. His surprise victory, until now his most important political accomplishment, seems to mean more to him than being president.

Americans have accepted the 2016 result, like the 2000 Bush-Gore election, because they want stability. Trump is in far less danger from questions about how much the Russians helped him than from his own current actions.

The country needs a president who will spearhead massive efforts to halt Russia’s cyber attacks and protect American democracy from foreign influences. Trump should worry less about his own election and get on with doing his job.re

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.