“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find and furnish political dirt on Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and that gay mayor whose name I can’t pronounce.”

OK, President Trump didn’t really say this, but he made abundantly clear during a remarkable interview in the Oval Office this week that, sure, he’d be open to hearing out foreign powers on any disparaging material they might offer on political opponents in 2020 — even from adversaries such as Russia or China. And he challenged ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos when the latter said Trump’s own hand-picked FBI director said any politician approached by foreign agents should contact law enforcement.

“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump declared. Well.

The president insists Congress does the very same. So should we assume Republican Congressman Bill Flores, who represents our district, is open for business to foreign influences? Consider the president’s words: “You go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called ‘oppo research.’”

Whether true or not, it’s an astonishing admission for any president of the United States to make, let alone to champion, especially one who has spent months dismissing as groundless the Mueller investigation into whether the Russians conspired with Trump’s inner circle in 2016 to elect Trump. The fact that so few Republicans condemn this president’s words confirms they concur with his trashing of once-cherished American values (and election law) or are too craven to risk the wrath of his tweets and loyal base. A day after Trump made these comments, Texas’ U.S. senators instead cheered Senate Judiciary Committee approval of another Trump appointee bound for the federal courts. Yikes!

The Mueller report notes on Page 49 that on July 27, 2016, Republican candidate Trump publicly declared, referring to opponent Hillary Clinton’s official emails on a private server: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Five hours later, Russian government hackers “targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.” The fact Special Counsel Robert Mueller declines to categorize this as treason or conspiracy suggests Trump’s reckless comments on Wednesday don’t qualify, either. Fair enough.

That said, as we mark Flag Day today and contemplate an Independence Day celebration led by this president, let all of us question whether a nation whose top leadership encourages self-serving political dirt from foreign powers while ignoring the importance of elections free of foreign meddling is truly independent. Trump’s comments and the eagerness of disciples to embrace them demonstrate how far we Americans have fallen since President Washington’s stern warning about foreign entanglements. In Trump’s America, we invite other nations — both friend and foe — to leap into our political process to the awful extent that, when all votes are counted, we must wonder to our anxiety and disgrace if our leaders are beholden to foreign powers through means of skullduggery, dirty tricks and something that sure smells like treason.

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