Stephen Gottlieb: The Seriousness Of The Ukraine Meeting | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb: The Seriousness Of The Ukraine Meeting

Oct 1, 2019

Let’s clarify the problems with Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

First, restrictions on foreign contributions to American elections protect American control over our government. If foreign countries can influence American elections, they can deflect the benefits of American wealth and power for their own advantage and the disadvantage of the rest of us. Restrictions on foreign contributions to American elections also keep candidates’ and office-holders’ loyalties home. More than that, if a foreign country can influence American elections, it can undermine American national security, preventing us from responding to the dangers from abroad.

Second, American foreign policy should not be for sale for personal benefits to American presidents. Corruption is not just a minor flaw. It sacrifices public to personal advantage. Corruption means that politicians are shirking their duty to the public in order to gain benefits for themselves.  Numerous provisions are in the Constitution to help stop that misbehavior, including the emoluments clauses. Of all types of corruption, none can be more serious than disloyalty, making deals with foreign countries at the expense of the American public. That is a particular risk of presidential power, which is why the emoluments clause outlaws the president or any other office-holder from gaining any personal advantage in dealing with foreign powers. The Constitution does not permit the risk that the president might deflect American foreign policy for personal advantage.

Third, it’s against the law. Federal statutes prohibit candidates for federal office from accepting contributions from foreign nationals.[i] That applies to the president and everyone else. They should be responding to American, not foreign, incentives. And the Constitution, though written in eighteenth century language, underscores that prohibition. It forbids any “person holding any office or profit or trust under … [the United States], without the consent of the Congress, [to] accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” In other words the president could not accept anything from the Ukrainian President individually or from his government.[ii]

This whistle-blower complaint, about selling American foreign policy to a foreign government for personal advantage, is about disloyalty, about selling American “security assistance to Ukraine.” No president in American history has been as corrupt as Donald Trump. Since he took office, Trump has been determined to use his position to advance his personal financial interests. And before Donald Trump, no president in American history has ever been found guilty of putting American interests up for sale for personal advantage.

Let me end with a word to Trump’s supporters, both in and out of government. This is not a time when you can simply dismiss what everyone else sees and knows, indeed what the majority of America understands. The consequences are just too serious. Supporting a man whose corruption and foreign allegiances are so obvious is the most disloyal thing you can do short of pulling the trigger. It’s time to wake up and discover what the rest of the world knows.

[1] 52 U.S.C. 30121(a).

[2] U.S. Const., Art. I, sec. 9, par. 8.

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

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