For­eign elec­tion med­dling is wrong, Mr. Pres­i­dent

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG Michael R. Bloomberg, for­mer mayor of New York City, is founder and ma­jor­ity owner of Bloomberg LP, the par­ent com­pany of Bloomberg News. He is the UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s spe­cial en­voy for cli­mate ac­tion.

It was ex­tra­or­di­nary to hear a U.S. pres­i­dent de­clare that the FBI di­rec­tor is “wrong” for say­ing that can­di­dates should re­port to the FBI — as the law clearly in­tends — any effort by for­eign agents to aid a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date by pass­ing along op­po­si­tion re­search. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump does not un­der­stand the value of the law pro­hibit­ing cam­paigns from such aid, nor does he ap­pear to have any in­ten­tion of fol­low­ing it.

For all the dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the Mueller re­port, there is one as­pect of it where there should be no de­bate: The threat of for­eign med­dling in U.S. elec­tions has in­creased, it must not be tol­er­ated or abet­ted, and cam­paigns must be held ac­count­able for as­sist­ing in polic­ing this na­tional se­cu­rity im­per­a­tive.

On this is­sue, the stan­dard for eth­i­cal and pa­tri­otic be­hav­ior should not be whether some­one en­gages in a crim­i­nal con­spir­acy. It should be whether some­one acts with honor in re­buff­ing — and re­port­ing — at­tempts at for­eign in­flu­ence. That did not hap­pen in 2016, and un­less Congress acts soon, we may see an even worse breach in 2020.

The Na­tional Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee has re­fused to pledge, as its Demo­cratic coun­terand

part has, not to use hacked or stolen ma­te­ri­als. And now the pres­i­dent has in­di­cated that his re-elec­tion cam­paign would be open to us­ing them, too. The Rus­sians — to say noth­ing of the North Kore­ans — must be grin­ning ear to ear.

The Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence, led by Dan Coats, noted two years ago that Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion rep­re­sented a “sig­nif­i­cant es­ca­la­tion in di­rect­ness, level of ac­tiv­ity, and scope of effort” com­pared with pre­vi­ous at­tempts. Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller agreed, call­ing the Rus­sian ef­forts “sweep­ing and sys­tem­atic.”

Although a lot of this mis­chief took place in the digital realm of hack­ers so­cial-me­dia trolls, a shock­ing amount happened face-to-face — and all the while the public was in the dark. Rus­sian na­tion­als or in­ter­me­di­aries had at least 140 con­tacts with key fig­ures em­ployed by or as­so­ci­ated with Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign and tran­si­tion teams.

Stop­ping cam­paigns from en­gag­ing in bouts of in­ter­na­tional foot­sie should be easy — far eas­ier than ad­dress­ing the mul­ti­fac­eted cy­ber-op­er­a­tions (run not only by Rus­sia but also by China, Iran and other na­tions seek­ing to in­flu­ence Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). Congress can start by pass­ing the For­eign In­flu­ence Re­port­ing in Elec­tions Act, spon­sored by Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

This sen­si­ble leg­is­la­tion would re­quire cam­paign of­fi­cials to main­tain a ba­sic com­pli­ance sys­tem to mon­i­tor elec­tion-re­lated con­tacts with for­eign na­tion­als, and to re­port any such con­tacts to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Elected of­fice-hold­ers and staff who meet with for­eign­ers in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity would be ex­empt.

By now it is abun­dantly clear that the public can­not sim­ply trust cam­paign of­fi­cials to act as hon­or­ably as Al Gore’s cam­paign did in 2000, when it came into pos­ses­sion of a Bush cam­paign brief­ing book and other ma­te­ri­als and turned them over to the FBI.

This leg­is­la­tion alone is not enough to end for­eign at­tempts at elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. The vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of U.S. in­fra­struc­ture are too great and the po­ten­tial re­wards of ma­nip­u­la­tion too en­tic­ing. But by mak­ing ex­plicit what is out of bounds for Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, and re­in­forc­ing the rules with se­ri­ous penal­ties, the pro­posed law should shore up at least one po­lit­i­cal norm, and per­haps some small mea­sure of public con­fi­dence, dam­aged in the 2016 elec­tion.

Still, the larger prob­lem re­mains: the ab­sence in the Oval Of­fice of an un­der­stand­ing that pa­tri­o­tism re­quires eth­i­cal ac­tions that tran­scend one’s own for­tunes.

DOUG MILLS NYT

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump dur­ing a work­ing lunch with gov­er­nors in the White House on Thurs­day. On "Fox and Friends" on Fri­day morn­ing, Trump ap­peared to back­track on ac­cept­ing cam­paign help from for­eign gov­ern­ments.

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