Note: this was originally published in the Washington Post, and was co-authored by Checks & Balances member John Bellinger.
Foreign interference in elections is unacceptable. Congress must make it illegal.
The Senate, by a nearly straight party-line vote, has now acquitted President Trump of the charges in the articles of impeachment brought by the House. The president had insisted that his dealings with Ukraine over military aid and a possible investigation of Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, were “perfect.” However, even as Republican senators acquitted him, several disagreed, saying his actions were wrong but did not break any law.
In response, the House impeachment managers argued that the constitutional grounds “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” for impeachment did not require violation of a specific federal criminal statute.
Whether one views the president’s actions as justifying removal from office or not, we believe that the prospect of foreign interference in U.S. elections is today so grave — whether initiated by a foreign power or invited by a candidate — that Congress must make such activity illegal.
Doing so would be consistent with history. For example, after the Vietnam War and President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation over Watergate, Congress enacted a series of laws to rein in executive power. These included the establishment of intelligence oversight committees in Congress, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the War Powers Resolution, and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (which the Government Accountability Office concluded Trump had violated).
Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looked exhaustively at whether the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. Mueller found that the Russians had interfered in the election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” and he indicted 26 Russian nationals, including 12 intelligence officers, for conspiracy and hacking into U.S. computers. Although he found that the Trump campaign had welcomed Russian interference, Mueller could not establish that the campaign had conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in a manner that violated the law. Current law prohibits candidates from accepting money from foreign sources, but it is not clear on nonfinancial assistance.