Sohn: When did America go up for sale?

Sohn: When did America go up for sale?

June 15th, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in March. (AP file photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Sure, Donald Trump would like to take dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, he told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos in an interview that aired on Wednesday. And he wouldn't necessarily tell the FBI about the offer.

Why would he?

After all, he and his campaign already have. And they're getting away with it.

"I think you might want to listen," Trump said. "There isn't anything wrong with listening."

Actually, yeah there is. It's illegal. It's a crime under federal election law for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals. It also opens the president up to blackmail. And it openly invites foreign governments to do something that we spend billions of dollars trying to prevent — the subversion of our national security.

At first, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle were astounded — and not pleasantly so — by the president's remarks. But even Republicans who first said he was wrong have now quickly jumped in line — following the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused on Fox News to condemn Trump's comments. McConnell instead blamed Democrats (did they make Trump's mouth move?) for being unable to move beyond the Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent says Trump is openly inviting another attack on our political system.

And McConnell is actively making that attack more likely. McConnell, by defending Trump's comments and refusing to allow the Senate to proceed on multiple election security bills that really could mitigate foreign interference impact, is ensuring that such attacks could continue and be more damaging.

This is the same McConnell, the Post notes, who was asked in 2016 by top intelligence officials to join in bipartisan condemnation of Russian interference on Trump's behalf, and refused, claiming he would denounce any public condemnation of it as partisan politics.

And it's the same McConnell whose wife, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, has blatantly leveraged her position in Trump's Cabinet to benefit her family's shipping business, the Foremost Group. In 2017, she had planned a visit to Beijing, ostensibly on government business, and also arranged for members of the family to attend government meetings. This so alarmed the U.S. embassy that staffers there got in touch with the State Department to find out how to handle it, according to The New York Times. That visit was canceled, but according to a Politico article published last month, Chao has held at least a dozen interviews with Chinese media, with her father by her side, clearly associating his business with her position as transportation secretary.

But that's not all. Politico reported that she "designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky, paving the way for transportation grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection." (Chao did this month finally sell her stock in a paving materials company, Vulcan, a full two years after she pledged to do so in order to be confirmed as Transportation Secretary.)

Then there's the McConnell obstruction of justice for Trump: After all, he's made it clear he will fast-track Trump to acquittal in a Senate trial, should the House impeach him. And he calls the still-not-fully-disclosed Mueller Report "case closed."

Here's the operative foreign powers question: When did the Russians (and Chinese? Saudis, too?) surreptitiously take over the Republican Party? Consider:

* McConnell refused to make the Russia investigation public during the 2016 election.

* Trump and his campaign (272 contacts with Russians) solicited and encouraged, and at the very least attempted to coordinate with Russians and Wikileaks, to use stolen material on Trump's opponent.

* Two-and-a-half years later, McConnell, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr continue to cover up the full findings of the Russia probe so that all of it will not be made public.

* In January, Trump lifted U.S. sanctions against Oleg Deripaska-linked companies. You may recall that Deripaska had faced scrutiny for financial entanglements with a former Trump campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, who in July 2016 reportedly asked an associate to offer Deripaska private briefings on the presidential race, in hopes of settling a $26 million lawsuit stemming from a failed investment venture.

* Three or four months later, Rusal, an aluminum company partially owned by Deripaska, announced plans to invest about $200 million to build a new aluminum plant in — you guessed it, McConnell's state of Kentucky. McConnell had advocated for lifting the sanctions.

* Deripaska's Rusal business partner, another Russian named Len Blavatnik, contributed to GOP PACs and top Republican leaders, including McConnell, according to Politifact's analysis of Federal Election Commission records. In the 2015-16 cycle, Blavatnik's companies contributed more than $6.3 million, with $2.5 million going to McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund. In 2017, Blavatnik donated another $1 million to the committee, records show, bringing the total to $3.5 million. Not the GOP's or McConnell's biggest donor, but who would blow off $3.5 million?

Maybe those who wondered if Trump was an asset of Vladimir Putin were wrong. Maybe it's McConnell who's been masterminding the president's smooches with Russia, China, et al.

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