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Impeachment and the FBI's Russia probe: Patriotism at its finest

Impeachment and the FBI's Russia probe: Patriotism at its finest
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By late summer 2016, the U.S. intelligence community knew that Russia was actively interfering in a contentious presidential election. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that there is much more to the story. Moscow, in an act of geopolitical desperation, sought to: (1) sow political chaos in the United States, (2) undermine American leadership globally and (3) attain its most pressing geopolitical objectives. According to Senate Republicans, Russia did so by “invariably” promoting candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE over candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is charged with protecting the United States and its core institutions from foreign exploitation. After Moscow’s strategic release of pilfered e-mails, the bureau – true to its mission – went on high alert. Following revelations that a Russian government cut-out approached a Trump campaign staffer with offers of “dirt” on Trump’s political opponent, the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do: It connected the dots and opened a counterintelligence investigation.

Importantly, Trump’s 2016 campaign rhetoric aligned precisely with Moscow’s most critical geopolitical goals. Candidate Trump relentlessly blasted NATO, hinted at legitimizing Russian aggression and floated removing punishing Western sanctions against Moscow. Whether Trump pursued such a pro-Kremlin line to secure future business deals in Russia or because he was compromised by Russian intelligence is largely irrelevant: To the Kremlin, Trump’s overtures and divisive rhetoric amounted to a strategic godsend. With Russia under severe economic strain and geopolitically isolated, Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Putin not ready to recognize Biden win Putin: Russia ready to give Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to other countries MORE went “all in” on Trump.

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Political campaigns engage in three core activities: Launching advertising campaigns, mobilizing (or discouraging) voters and organizing political rallies. The Russian government conducted all three on behalf of Donald Trump, turning Russian intelligence agents into direct extensions of the Trump campaign.

If Moscow’s sweeping interference campaign, coupled with numerous suspicious meetings and Trump’s oddly pro-Russia rhetoric, had not triggered suspicions (and, ultimately, action) by the FBI, the bureau would have been statutorily and criminally derelict in its duty to investigate undue foreign influence in the United States. The FBI, in short, did exactly what it is charged to do. Even some vocal Republicans do not dispute this. Moreover, there is no evidence that a series of “errors and omissions” that occurred during the bureau’s Russia probe – some of them significant – were the result of political bias or intentional malfeasance.

Trump’s staunchest defenders have yet to answer what U.S. counterintelligence should have done when confronted with the hundreds of inexplicable contacts – at the height of Moscow’s sweeping interference campaign – between individuals in Trump’s orbit and the Russian government. Should U.S. law enforcement agencies simply have stood by idly while a foreign power mounted an unprecedented attack against the most sacred of America’s democratic institutions?

The same goes for Congress and the ongoing impeachment inquiry. Given the facts, there is zero doubt that Donald Trump withheld crucial security assistance to an ally at war for personal political gain. The evidence of presidential malfeasance, attempted bribery and corruption is overwhelming.

Trump’s own political appointees, widely-respected diplomats, a Purple Heart recipient, foreign policy professionals, career budget officials (rightly concerned with obeying federal law) and a leading Fox News analyst have made the president’s corrupt intent an indisputable fact.

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Moreover, Trump’s impeachment defenses do not pass muster. The president cannot claim to have legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine when he and his lieutenants undercut and sidelined the most effective anti-corruption voices in Kyiv. Similarly, Trump’s “the Europeans aren’t doing enough” defense collapses entirely in the face of reality: The European Union has provided more than $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since 2014. The $1.5 billion provided by the United States over the same period pales in comparison.

Under the American Constitution, it is Congress’ duty to check the powers of the presidency. And the importance of Congress’ role increases exponentially when a president exploits the vast authorities of the office for personal gain. 

In an era of fierce political division and eroding trust in the government entities that safeguard American democracy, it is heartening that patriotic men and women in critical institutions still place duty to country before partisan politics.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.