This is how it all started, according to ABC News:
During an exclusive interview in the Oval Office, Pres. Trump told ABC News' Stephanopoulos he would consider accepting damaging information about his political rivals from foreign nations.
The key sentence that Trump said:
It's not an interference, they have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI.
For this, Trump was condemned by the left. De Blasio, for example, called Trump's remarks "openly treasonous."
Some on the right were also critical. Graham said, "I think it's a mistake. I think it's a mistake of law."
A few defended Trump. Solomon wrote a great article with examples of Obama administration accepting dirt from foreign governments.
Almost immediately after the ABC tweet, Weintraub, the current chairwoman of the FEC, wrote,
It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.
The next day Trump appeared to walk maybe back:
of course, you have to look at it, because if you don't look at it, you won't know it's bad, but, of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to attorney general or somebody like that.
So what happened? This all could be obvious to you, but I have several questions:
Did Trump do something wrong?
Is Trump a liar because he contradicted himself? And did he contradict himself?
Was Trump correct? Is there nothing wrong in accepting information from foreigners?
Is Trump a traitor? Did he commit treason?
To me, these are interesting questions. Let's address them unemotionally. Whether Trump was right or wrong, it's not the end of the world. Let's try to discuss this rationally with the information we have.
First of all, note that Trump didn't do anything. He was talking, thinking aloud, as he usually does, and as all normal people do. He might have been wrong in saying something, but calling for his impeachment for that is an overreaction, wouldn't you agree? I like that Trump doesn't speak from scripts written by bureaucrats. I am fine that he might occasionally say something wrong. Even if he doesn't correct himself, which in this case he did.
Point #1. People disagree on the meaning, the appropriateness, and the implications of what Trump said, but he didn't do anything wrong.
Vyshinsky, Stalin's prosecutor, said,
We do not distinguish intentions from the crime itself, and this is the superiority of Soviet legislation to bourgeois.
I hope Russia is still superior in this regard.
Is Trump a liar because he contradicted himself? Did he contradict himself?
Santorum makes an interesting point that "maybe" is a filler word. Sometimes people fill their speech up with filler words. I agree with Santorum that during interviews Trump may appear to be rambling by using filler words or by repeating several times what he had just said. In my opinion, it's a good technique because while he is thinking of the issue, he keeps talking to prevent the interviewer from moving too early onto a different subject.
I actually like it. It sends a signal that he is thinking about the issue in front of your eyes. It's like coming to a Japanese restaurant where the meal is prepared in front of you, instead of going to a drive-thru where they toss you an anonymously prepared and packaged meal. It's even better than that. Trump is not a professional cook. Not a professional politician. You know it in your heart right away when he goes off script, which he often does. And you instinctively look at him with tense sympathy, like the feeling you'd get if you watched an amateur tightrope walker fighting to keep his balance.
This is frightening stuff. I am sitting in front of my computer, with the internet at my fingertips, checking my sources, looking for the right words, often crossing out and rewriting what I've already written. But Trump can't correct himself. He can't say, "Hey George, I just thought of something. Can you roll back the tape, I'd like to change a few words?" I believe that Trump does it so well because he had a unique experience starring in a reality TV show where he developed his ability to improvise.
So I would forgive him if he used "maybe" to fill the space. But in this instance, I believe using "maybe" made his statement more exact. Who knows what the conversation with the foreigner was about? Maybe one needed to run to the FBI, or maybe not.
Point 2. Trump wasn't lying when he dropped "maybe".
You may still think that he contradicted himself, but even if you are right and I am wrong, even if he did change his statement, and even if it's a significant change, it's not a lie. It's a correction.
The next interesting question is this. Did he say it's ok not to run to the FBI?
Imagine this conversation.
"What do you want?"
"Somebody offered me dirt on Hillary."
"Why are you calling us?"
"I don't know if he is an American."
"Keep talking to him for five minutes, we'll be right there."
Don't you see how absurd this requirement is? Maybe if you live on an uninhabited island and you meet somebody, you can bring him to your hut, offer some bananas and after dinner when you are both relaxed you'll subtly ask him if he is a foreigner. But if you are in the middle of a political campaign; when dozens if not hundreds of people meet with you every single day; when someone tells you something dirty about your political opponent, maybe she didn't return a library book some time ago or smoked a joint or something, what do you do? Do you stop the conversation and ask for papers? And if the person doesn't have the papers or refuses to show you the papers, do you call the FBI? It's silly.
Okay. This may be silly. And this may be absurd. But it's the law. And once it's the law, nobody is above the law, the rule of law, etc. But is it the law?
Of course, it is because Weintraub said so. Well, did she? No, not really. She implied and she hinted but she didn't say that. What did she say exactly?
"It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election."
I think this law is too vague and could be applied to anybody. Putting that aside, Trump never said during this interview or any other time, that it's ok to take anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. He said it's ok to take dirt on a political opponent. You say, it's the same, right? You say, I'm splitting hairs. Well, I am not. And I can prove it to you with one question: if that's the same, why didn't she say that?
Trump says A. She makes a statement immediately, that B is against the law. And she adds: "This is not a novel concept."
I mean, she knew what Trump said. Her statement was obviously in response to Trump's interview. She is the chief prosecutor of this law, so to speak, the main authority in America on whether getting dirt is legally receiving something of value. Why didn't she say it?
Maybe she did. Maybe just because I don't have an approved legal education, I don't understand that she said it or how she secretly said it. Or that it's so obvious, that she didn't need to say it. Fine. Let's check with a lawyer. And we want someone who doesn't work in the White House, someone we can trust is not pro-Trump. Someone that even, say, CNN, would trust.
Here's the opinion of Stephen Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and national security expert at the University of Texas School of Law:
It's a crime under federal election law for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals. In this case, dirt on an opponent could qualify as something of value.
It looks like he nailed Trump. But read it again: dirt could qualify as something of value. It could. It might. It's possible. He is not saying it does.
Mitchell makes an excellent point: 92% of media coverage was negative for Trump.
Did Hillary report that she received something of value from CNN to the FBI? To the FEC? Did Weintraub charge her with breaking the law?
Finally, one more argument that the CNN analyst brought up.
It opens the President up to blackmail
Assuming the dirt is given and the public or the FBI isn't told, the politician taking the dirt would have a secret with a foreign government that could be held over them. Trump knows something about trying to keep things quiet.
This is so far-fetched that I don't even want to discuss it seriously. It's in the interest of Trump? To run to the FBI after any information he received, or any action that is happening with him or around him? Better yet, bring a sleeping bag to the FBI and stay there! Who knows what our enemy may consider a secret and decide to use against him.
The bottom line is, Trump isn't a traitor. He didn't commit treason. I am convinced all of this is a hit job by the fake news and deep state.
And Mr. President, please fire Weintraub. She was wrong, but that's not the problem. The problem is, why did she come out with the presidentially disparaging but otherwise vacuous statement in public? Why didn't she give you a call? Did she bask in the glow of attention? Is attention really that valuable to her? All those retweets and likes from around the world, she can't live without it.
Did you know, by the way, that this paragon of objectivity and unbiasedness work prior to her appointment to the FEC, was working at the Hillary law firm Perkins Coie? The same law firm that hired Fusion GOS in April 2016. The company that's responsible for Steel dossier. And that's the real scandal, maybe the biggest scandal in American history, involving "knowingly soliciting or accepting items of value from foreign nationals" not only to get dirt on a political opponent but to use it to start a baseless criminal investigation.
"What do you want?"
"I paid to a foreign national to get dirt on Trump."
"Why are you calling us?"
"I want you to use it to start a criminal investigation on him."
"Do you have the dirt?"
"We'll be right there."
Fire Weintraub. Her tweet was obviously subtexting the coming U.S. presidential election. She received retweets and likes and attention from Twitter users. Some of them could be foreigners. This could qualify as something of value.
She committed openly treasonous act. Fire her.