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A public policy blog from AEI
If there’s a silver-lining to the current political crisis engulfing Washington, it is that people across the political spectrum have woken up to the fact that hostile powers like Russia seek to entice US politicians and their aides with cash and preferential deals. There is no free ride in Washington and altruism is in short supply.
However, if there is going to be any positive outcome from the current kerfuffle, it’s important to recognize that (a) Russian money is nothing new and (b) it’s a bipartisan problem.
Consider, for example, the case of Ellen Tauscher, the former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Tauscher is best-known for (and brags about) shepherding through the new START treaty, all the while the State Department apparently covered up reports that Russia was violating previous arms control accords. What is less known is that after leaving the State Department, Tauscher became both a Hillary Clinton surrogate and the beneficiary of Russian funds channeled through the Russian International Affairs Council, the Kremlin’s think-tank, to a program Tauscher co-chaired at the Atlantic Council with Igor Ivanov, Russia’s former foreign minister. The point is, if Russian money taints Trump and his advisors, the same standard should apply to Clinton’s top aides. Even if such funding and support did not change their minds, it’s a question of judgment.
Of course, Russia is not the only country that has figured out that greed in Washington trumps ethics. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is a cautionary tale. He accepted money from a Turkish company to consult, and subsequently changed his positions on issues important to Turkey. Ekim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman in question says he was not acting on behalf of the Turkish government when he offered the half-million dollar consulting gig to Flynn, but that does not explain why he would need Flynn’s advice on issues on which he already had equal if not superior insight.
There’s nothing wrong with transparency. But, consistency in Washington is also important.
The Clinton Foundation was equally problematic. Rather than clear the air by insisting the Clinton Foundation would not accept foreign donations if she were elected president, Hillary Clinton’s promise instead compounded the problem by seeming to signal that foreign interests had a limited amount of time to get their checks in. Democrats can argue there’s no proof that donations impacted policy but that’s missing the point: The intent of the donors was probably not altruism, and optics matter.
Does this mean that Team Trump’s alleged dealings with the Russians should not be investigated? No. There’s nothing wrong with transparency. But, consistency in Washington is also important. Russian money polluted not only the Trump campaign, but Clinton’s, Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s, and Libertarian Gary Johnson’s campaigns as well. That this happened is a testament to the cesspool of ethical misjudgment and greed that Washington has become. Investigate Trump, certainly, but recognize that he’s a symptom of the problem and not its entirety.
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