In a letter released yesterday two prominent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee called for an investigation into Donald Trump’s call for Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email server. The Senators, Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), wrote that “Mr. Trump’s apparent encouragement of a foreign cyber attack on presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a U.S. Citizen and former Secretary of State, is dangerous and irresponsible.”
The incident in question occurred last week when, following reports that Russian intelligence was behind a massive hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email server, Trump was asked if he would call on Russian president Vladimir Putin to stay out of U.S. elections. Taking the exact opposite track, Trump replied referring to emails allegedly wiped from Mrs. Clinton’s private server: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will be rewarded mightily by our press.”
As many observers have noted, the DNC hack, if indeed orchestrated by Russian intelligence, represents an unprecedented interference in an American election by a foreign dictatorial power, although Russia has been known in recent years to surreptitiously attempt to influence elections in countries from Ukraine to France. To call for such interference to continue as Trump did is not only surprising given the typically chauvinistic tenor of his “America First” campaign but could potentially undermine the independence of America’s democratic process. Trump’s plea for Russian intelligence to hack a political opponent came as his connections with Russian oligarchs and ties to the dictator Vladimir Putin have come under increasing scrutiny.
And while the authors of the letter released yesterday were both Democrats, the dangerous nature of Trump’s request and his Russia ties in general have been recognized across the political spectrum. Thus in an open letter released last week two dozen non-partisan national security experts stated that Trump’s courting of foreign influence constituted “an assault on the integrity if the entire American political process.”
Coons and Whitehouse’s letter is addressed to religious extremist Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the former presidential candidate who also serves as the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights, and Federal Courts. The letter calls on him to “conduct an oversight hearing to determine whether existing federal criminal statutes and federal court jurisdiction sufficiently address conduct related to foreign entities that could undermine our elections,” essentially a call to determine whether any criminal laws have been broken, of which the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Espionage Act, and the Logan Act come to mind.
It is now up to Cruz’s discretion to schedule a hearing or not. If he does, the new investigation would come on top of an existing federal investigation into charges of fraud and racketeering in relation to Trump’s Trump University franchise, for which a federal judge recently ruled the nominee must stand trial. If there’s anything that could soften the utter disgust with which he is viewed by most of the American people, it would be this. Do it, Ted. The man insulted your wife!
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.