Democrats Search For Russians — Any Russians — For Collusion

download-1Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the controversy surrounding demand letters sent out by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — and the scope of the discovery sought by its lead Democratic counsel.  The scope of discovery is always a difficult issue in litigation and lawyers resist efforts to limit the scope of evidence.  However, reasonable limits are usually worked out between counsel but, in this case, the Senate counsel appears to have doubled down on a definition that is facially too broad. More importantly, it raises serious constitutional concerns.  The definition reads too much like a street cry to “bring out your Russians.”

Here is the column:

Do you know or have you ever known anyone of Russian descent? Think carefully, because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence could well be interested in your answer.

In a letter from the Democratic senior minority counsel for the committee, April Doss, various individuals and groups were told to reveal not just any Russian citizens with which they have associated but anyone that an organization “knows or has reason to believe [is] of Russian nationality or descent.” Any degree of Russian blood.

The demand from the Senate raises serious issues of free speech and associational rights. Suspicion based on nationality has a long and dark history in the United States, a history being ignored in the rush to incriminate all things Russian in Washington.The Senate not only demanded information on anyone of Russian descent involved in the 2016 election but involved in some capacity in “activities that related in any way to the political election process in the U.S.” So these individuals and groups are expected to reveal the names and association with anyone with any Russian blood who acted “in any way” with any aspect of the “political election process in the U.S.”

The demand for information from the Senate has gone out to a wide range of individuals, including Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate. As a struggling third party, it is particularly concerning for the Green Party to disclose its supporters and associations to a committee composed of members from the two dominant parties.

The forced disclosure of such names has long been viewed as a threat to core constitutional rights. In the 1958 case National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Alabama in seeking the list of members from the NAACP. The court ruled that the disclosure of such names “may induce members to withdraw from the Association and dissuade others from joining it because of fear of exposure of their beliefs shown through their associations and of the consequences of this exposure.”

While the Senate may argue that the mere disclosure of names does not mean that these individuals have committed any wrongful acts, the Court found that the act of disclosure itself creates a chilling effect on speech. The sweeping Senate demand was issued in December.

Notably, in 2016, I testified in Congress in a controversy over a congressional investigation of state prosecutors and environmental public interest groups involved in an alleged campaign against Exxon Corporation. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others had issued subpoenas demanding disclosure of academics and groups associating with Exxon and other energy companies opposed to climate change reforms. The House Science Committee responded with demands for evidence on coordination or communications between those prosecutors and environmental groups.

At the time, Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) denounced the demand, and many distributed a letter signed by law professors that declared, “The subpoenas, and the threat of future sanctions, themselves threaten the First Amendment — directly inhibiting the rights of their recipients to speak, to associate and to petition state officials without interference from Congress.” In my testimony, I expressed similar concerns over protecting free speech and associational rights. While I concluded that the committee was not constitutionally barred in seeking such evidence, I strongly encouraged the committee to narrow its demands and ultimately did narrow its discovery.

What is striking is that the demand from the House committee that led to the outcry from Democratic members in 2016 is a model of restraint compared to the Democratic demand letter from the Senate committee. This country has had a long and ugly history with investigations or actions based on nationality. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the California Alien Land Law of 1913 to the Japanese internment camps of World War II, we have often yielded to our prejudices or fears. Ironically, Democrats most recently objected to the use of nationality in the Trump travel ban as unlawful and “un-American.”

The demand from Doss, who was reportedly brought on to the Senate committee staff by vice chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), is particularly worrisome because it is entirely unnecessary. The Democratic members could have simply tailored their questions to focus on specific types of actions or advocacy linked to Russian interests. That would make more sense, since the Russians have used non-Russians to pursue such interests. Instead, individuals and groups received demands for any “Russian persons” who may have had some involvement in the 2016 U.S. election.

We have roughly three million Americans claiming Russian descent, including 750,000 who were either born in Russia or have at least one parent or grandparent of ethnic Russian heritage. These citizens have every right and civic obligation to participate in our elections. They include some of our greatest artistic and social icons, from Woody Allen to Michael Bay to Irving Berlin to Harrison Ford. The list also includes such genetic fellow-travelers as Ben Cardin, William Cohen, Russ Feingold, Al FrankenBernie Sanders and former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), whose paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. All of these national politicians participated in the 2016 U.S. election. It would also include my children, since my wife descends from a Jewish family from Minsk in the 1800s.

The Senate committee has every right to look into the role of the Russian government and its surrogates in our presidential election. This will necessarily involve scrutiny of the ties, including business and other ties, between potential targets or witnesses and Russia. However, the Senate Democratic staff has flipped the proper inquiry. Rather than confining its discovery to people engaged in well-defined contacts or conduct and then looking at their background, the Senate is looking for “Russians” and then investigating their conduct. While the letter does not ask if and how long your family has been Russian, the end result is the same.

For those of us who have supported the special counsel and congressional investigations, the Doss letter undermines the credibility of the effort to find the truth about campaign interference. It is not simply a gratuitous insult to millions of Russian Americans, but a careless exercise of congressional authority. Moreover, it conveys a reckless, if not desperate, effort to find Russians to fulfill some simplistic narrative of collusion. The fact is that you do not need actual Russians in the United States for Russian collusion, as any more than being Russian means you are more likely to collude. The evidence of Russian intervention has been found by following moneylines and codelines, not bloodlines.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

127 thoughts on “Democrats Search For Russians — Any Russians — For Collusion”

  1. It seems the Democrats have finally found and embraced their inner Joe McCarthy.

  2. Is the subpoena for Cambridge Analytica’s records included among those documents that the Republican House committee wants to avoid obtaining, by dragging its feet? The CEO testified before the House. When will the public see the testimony? Assange said he was approached by Cambridge Analytica.
    Reportedly, Kushner directed the Trump campaign to the company, which has links to Bannon and the Mercer’s.

  3. Who needs Russians? we’ve got Trump. No possible ‘foreign enemy’ could bring the nation down so far or so fast.

    1. Same applies to the enabling donor class including the Koch’s, the Mercer’s (Bannon’s benefactors), Adelson and Uihlein

  4. 1984

    How curious that the Mueller Investigation is pushing so hard to find a crime, any crime, involving the Trump Administration and the Russians, while ignoring the fact that Hillary Clinton did exactly what they have accused Trump of doing.

    There is a very great chasm of difference between acknowledging that Russia inserts chaos wherever possible, to criminalizing any Republican who ever shook hands with a Russian in the One Drop Rule.

    With the Russian Reset Button, and The 80s Wants Its Foreign Policy Back, Russia was welcome in every circle on the Hill. To suddenly, retroactively criminalize the very friendships the Left encouraged is not a stable policy.

    I also find it ironic when politicians express such outrage that Russia may have tried to interfere in our election, when the US has meddled in elections and chain of successions around the globe.

    Based on what I have read so far, I believe that one of Russia’s goals is to embarrass the US, to weaken its influence globally. Offering fake information against Trump (which Hillary bought and used) and fake information against Hillary (which the Trump administration did not accept), brings us down a peg in the world’s eyes. In addition, they wanted to get the Magninsky Act repealed, which would remove Russian sanctions and strengthen Russia’s position.

    This does not reverse the Earth’s gravitational fields. The US, too, works to improve its position globally. Russia was meeting with everyone from the Left to the Right on the Hill to talk about the Magninsky Act. Other nations are welcome to disclose information that occurs on their own soil, as long as it’s true. If it is not, as in the Trump dossier, then that creates a diplomatic issue.

    How does anyone think we found out about the UN causing cholera in Haiti? From Haitians. How will we investigate the alleged wrongdoing of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake? From talking with Haitians. Foreign intelligence is not illegal, but it does need to be thoroughly vetted.

    It is indisputable that Hillary Clinton bought a fraudulent dossier on Trump, and tried to release it just before the election. Emails and Tweets discuss her frustration that the media would not release it until it had some sort of verification. Comey granted that when he gave it to Trump, leading to the complete release of the dossier. Prior to the election, the HRC campaign had to resort to leaks to get word of the dossier out as their surprise to try to fraudulently snatch the election. There would have been no time to disprove it before the election, which is a dishonest tactic employed by too many politicians.

    I think we can safely do away with the term “dossier” as this was never a legitimate intelligence document. Let’s call it what it is – a salacious malicious libel.

  5. A note, from a doctor that has his own name misspelled- either Trump’s doctor is under a lot of stress or, the note was signed by….? If the latter, why Is honesty so hard for the WH?

  6. Judicial Watch weekly update, something that should be listened to by any fair-minded individual. Fitton’s a bit wordy, but all Judicial Watch is doing is making sure that documents that were supposed to be released are released. Then all fair-minded people can read the actual documents (the primary source) instead of reading spin.

    Diane skip Judicial Watch because you don’t want to know the truth. All you want is spin and rhetoric to hide the misdeeds of the Clintons and their allies. The spin is becoming more difficult as the actual records are released.

    1. Swarthmoron, who cares? Do you need such stories to engage with your partner?

      From the WSJ: “President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels.”

      End of story except for one’s fantasies.

      1. Murdoch’s WSJ and da foxy news are tellin da truth. T rump likes da hookers. This is true. More will follow.

      2. Please stay in office. Mr T rump. You are da gift that keeps on givin, Just
        Like da Harvey Weinstein. Except Mueller ain’t checking da Weinstein for blackmail, the
        Lawyer Cohen will be testifyin under oath. Don’t ya know it was not rape with da hooker.

    2. A web trowler named who goes by the psuedonym Swarthmore mom is alleged to be spreading false and injurious romours against those in political parties she does not like. It is alleged that she had created fake news and multiple sources, who asked for anonymity state that Swarthmore mom has tried to treasonously undermine the present US government and has gone undercover to do so. It is also alleged that she has colluded with people of Russian decent and is therefore totally guilty of anything that’s been alleged.

      1. Ken Doll, judging from some of his regular commenters there some who wish who wish he was. Just his schtick as far as I know.

      2. “Is that guy a porn star? He dresses like one.”

        Why, Ken? Are you looking for a hook-up?

  7. No, Turley, no matter how much you print one side of the issues in which you can side with Trump, you are not going to be picked for the SCOTUS.

  8. I am an American citizen of Russian Descent. I participated in the 2016 election. I exercised my constitutional right in that election. I VOTED. Anyone have a problem with that?

    1. Michael Sheppa – I, for one, am glad that you voted. I don’t even care who you voted for. Voting is sacred to me, it is my duty as a citizen.

  9. Regarding “collusion”, all roads lead to Obama and

    the most prodigious scandal in American political history.

    Obama makes Nixon look like a choirboy.

          1. Squeeky – I know the problem, some of my best lines just go over people’s heads. But it is more about keeping me sane. 😉

            1. That’s what my “joke about the moon” punchline is. To wit:

              “Did you hear the joke about the moon???


              Just as well. It would probably be over your head.”

              I think those kind of jokes are called “chestnuts”. . .

              Squeeky Fromm
              Girl Reporter

          2. No, Squeeky, it was an udder failure.

            Milk it for all its worth.

            Ha, ha, ha!

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