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What is Opposition Research and Why is Foreign Intelligence Illegal?

By Cameron Gonzales 
Cameron Gonzales

Last Wednesday President Donald Trump, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, said he likely wouldn’t alert the FBI if a foreign agent approached him with information about a 2020 opponent. His exact words were, “It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it,” prompting Stephanopoulos to remind the President that the FBI Director himself asked that candidates alert the FBI in that situation. Trump responded by saying, “the FBI director is wrong”. Trump defended his claim by stating that it was simply “oppo research”.

Opposition research has been done for decades. It involves looking for public evidence against an opponent by looking through business records, submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, public statements by the opponent themselves, etcetera. What Trump is calling his opposition research, though, is in fact illegal. The FEC chair responded to Trump’s comments almost immediately with an official statement on Twitter. The official statement was prefaced by saying, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this”. The statement was a brief paragraph reminding Americans that, “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” (Bluman V. FEC).

But why is it illegal to accept information from a foreign agent? In the FEC statement, Ellen Weintraub explained that from the beginning of our nation, the Founding Fathers, “knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s”. It makes sense, why would a foreign government intervene in an election unless they would benefit from it? As we are reminded every day in every realm of life, nothing is free.

Article II, Section III of the Constitution requires that the President “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”. If the President does not report foreign electoral intervention to the FBI, not only is he in direct violation of Article II but he will have committed a crime. It is important that we take Trump’s claims seriously, especially given evidence in the Mueller Report of over 272 interactions (with 38 being Skype call meetings) between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives. By not agreeing to enforce the law, the American public cannot be sure that the 2020 race will be a free and fair election.

According to a Fox News poll released day before yesterday, 50% of voters now believe that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia. The American public should keep in mind that the only reason why a foreign government would want to interfere in an election is if they thought they would get something in return. Next month we will celebrate our Independence Day and the birth of the worlds strongest democracy. By protecting our elections, we protect our country, our institutions, and our Democracy. If you ask me, there is nothing as patriotic as that.

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