President Donald Trump’s forceful claims that he did nothing wrong in his conversation with Ukraine’s head of state squares with his short-term political interests. But he’s setting a perilous precedent for his children.
That wrinkle struck me when I read a defense of Trump in National Review by the Republican political consultant Luke Thompson. In Thompson’s telling, the government has a compelling interest in knowing whether its private citizens are engaged in corruption abroad. Hunter Biden’s actions, he argued, create the appearance of a conflict of interest, and “anything that Hunter Biden touched that intersected, however tangentially, with the official doings and responsibilities of his father can be presumed to be a worthy subject of investigation.”
Trump is within his rights to seek information about the matter from his counterparts abroad, Thompson continued; there is nothing wrong with him “using leverage to get answers,” and Joe Biden running for office changes nothing, in part because the national interest is presumptively served by those questions, “even if they also align with Trump’s perceived political self-interest.” As Thompson put it on a National Review podcast, “Venal motives are not in and of themselves a problem.”
Finally, Rudy Giuliani’s role is legitimate, Thompson wrote in the article, though he is Trump’s personal lawyer, since “the president is entitled to designate a special representative to serve as his proxy in negotiations or fact-finding, including a personal attorney with whom he enjoys attorney-client privilege over and above traditional executive privilege.”
I do not agree with that analysis. But one must accept many, if not all, of Thompson’s premises to defend Trump against accusations of wrongdoing.
Now think of what it means to accept those premises: that there would be nothing wrong with the next Democratic president taking identical actions in turn.
Defenders of Trump on this matter would seem to be conceding that a President Kamala Harris could pressure foreign leaders to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump for corrupt business dealings in their respective countries, marshaling the leverage of U.S. foreign policy to secure answers.
The inquiry could extend to anything related, however tangentially, to the official doings and responsibilities of their father, which would plausibly encompass nearly all of the Trump Organization’s actions around the world.
Harris could run the whole operation through a personal attorney chosen for his or her personal and political loyalty, bypassing the procedures and checks against corruption embedded within the federal bureaucracy. And she could do this to the Trump kids even if one of them were running against her for president––indeed, it would not even matter if her motives were obviously venal.
So, Trump supporters: Do you think, as I do, that it would be an abuse of power for President Harris to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka in this fashion? Or are you okay with the precedent that Trump is trying to set?