2017-02-15 / Opinion

The Russian Question


Jackie Sartoris Jackie Sartoris During and after November, a body of evidence strongly suggested that the election itself was compromised by Russian intervention. Recently, more evidence, leading to the shocking resignation of National Security Director Michael Flynn less than a month after Trump’s inauguration. Flynn is the third Trump administration official to resign under suspicion of wrongdoing with Russia. It seems possible that the President himself may have entered the White House making secret deals with Russia. This would be an impeachable offense, and raises the question of whether our democracy can tolerate anything short of a new election. The Russian question goes to the entire legitimacy of this Presidency. Until we know exactly what happened, and whether the President himself was complicit, every extreme policy shift of this administration - including the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice, only available to Trump due to initial hostage-taking of the seat by Senate Republicans in 2016 — should be opposed by members of Congress of both parties. If the election is illegitimate, the extreme, radical policies and appointments this President seeks are as well.

Let’s take an ironic pause. During the election, Michael Flynn led chants of “Lock her up!” in an election notable for criminalizing the candidate who, still, despite decades of investigations, has not been shown to have done anything actually illegal. Not only was Flynn caught talking sanctions when he should not have been, the fact that he was being recorded is something he, of all people, should have known about. Those of us who care about our national security can choose between concern for the ugly and overt partisanship Flynn displays, or his apparent foolishness. Or both. What they can’t do is pretend that the bigger concern here is about leaks.

That Congress, which is where impeachment hearings would have to be initiated, is doing nothing to investigate Flynn given the mounting evidence is a breach of their duty. This is the same Congress, with many of the same leaders, which investigated Hillary Clinton for over 2 decades with nothing to show for it. Nothing, that is, except to achieve the partisan goal of smearing her reputation. Can it be that partisanship, not patriotism, is the only value extreme Republicans have? Look no further than Representative Jason Chaffetz, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, refusing to investigate Flynn. 11 hours of Benghazi questioning for Hillary Clinton, following 4 years of investigation, and not a single minute for Flynn? Flynn gets a pass due to his “honorable service” while Clinton get trashed despite her honorable service?

Maine’s delegation illustrates how ill-served we all are by extreme partisanship at this crucial time. While both of Maine’s Senators and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree have spoken out in favor of investigating Russian ties to the administration, Congressman Bruce Poliquin’s silence is deafening. This patriotic Congressman expresses no concern whatsoever, even as other Republicans stand up. Meanwhile the actions of Senator Collins - expressing concern while enabling this administration at every turn — speak louder than her words.

I and other Brunswick folks met with Collins’s very able staffer just over a week ago. It was clear that she wanted to explain Collins’s vote on Betsy DeVos, now installed as Trump’s Education Secretary. She stated that Collins “always” sends nominees from committees to a full vote, and that this was just her tradition. Rather than pay attention to Collins’s vote that enabled DeVos to clear the Education Committee, on which Collins sits, her staffer urged us to focus on Collins’s vote against DeVos in the full Senate.

But Collins herself cited DeVos lack of any experience with public schools as meriting her vote against DeVos on the floor. She found DeVos unqualified by this inexperience, yet chose not to exercise her actual role on the Senate Committee when she knew a “no” vote would have kept Trump’s radically religious nominee out of this critical position. “We always do it like this!” is just not good enough from a senior Senator at this time.

Collins avoided taking the one step she could have to prevent one highly unqualified nominee out of Trump’s extreme Cabinet. Collins has yet to vote against a single nominee, even though these extreme nominees almost to a person specifically oppose the missions of each agency they are slated to head.

Given the looming and unexamined shadow of Russian interference, the resulting illegitimacy of this President, the extreme and radical agenda that Trump has set, and the increasing concern that Americans express — in polls, in protests, in phone calls — every move that our Congressional delegation makes to enable Trump's extreme agenda is an action in complicity with a possibly illegitimate pawn.

Until we have fully investigated the Russian connections to this administration, our delegation should stand, united in opposition, until we know that these concerns have been addressed.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Brunswick town councilor.

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