Trump Jr. ignored Russian threat; Congress must not

Donald Trump Jr., seen here in November 2016, has been thrust into the spotlight over allegations of possible collusion during last year's election between the Trump campaign and Russia. Photo by
Donald Trump Jr., seen here in November 2016, has been thrust into the spotlight over allegations of possible collusion during last year's election between the Trump campaign and Russia. Photo by The Washington Post

Whether in the nation’s capital or back home in the South Sound, it’s commonplace to see men and women in uniform. In Lakewood, it may be an Army soldier in camouflage and boots. In D.C., it’s a Marine guarding the barracks in a dark blue coat with brass buttons, or a Naval officer in khakis walking around the Washington Navy Yard.

As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know these service members, as well as members of the intelligence community, are confronted daily with extraordinary threats from every corner of the globe.

One of those threats is Vladimir Putin. He rules Russia with an iron fist ready to punch back to a totalitarian state resembling the Soviet Union.

So when I heard about Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a Russian government lawyer in order to get dirt on his father’s political opponent, I thought about an older American I recently saw at a restaurant, wearing a baseball cap with “Vietnam Veteran” emblazoned on it.

That veteran and all our service members swear to uphold and defend the Constitution, to protect against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Donald Trump Jr. never took that oath, but he — and all of us — owe it to those men and women who did, as well as the country we are privileged to call home, to never engage with a foreign adversary for private or political gain.

It doesn’t matter what the Russians had on Hillary Clinton, or any other American for that matter. If a robber burglarizes your neighbor’s home, and then claims they have acquired information for your benefit, you don’t hesitate before you call the cops.

We teach our children to do the right thing, that actions have consequences, and to always tell the truth. We teach our children that no one is above the law, not even the son or daughter of the president.

We do that because we were founded as a nation of laws, a nation that knew that kings inevitably become oppressive and that the people collectively govern far better than one person.

We are a nation that believes in fair and open elections conducted with integrity, and that enables us all to accept the election outcome. That is why departing presidents attend the inauguration of their successor even if they were defeated by them. They sit respectfully and shake the winner’s hand.

We have embraced this peaceful transfer of power since 1797. It is what makes us who we are.

Before our very first peaceful transfer of power, our first president warned of the “insidious wiles of foreign influence.” He warned his fellow citizens that “foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

With three small words (“I love it”), Donald Trump Jr. took his eye off the “baneful foe” of Russia. His patriotism went dormant.

It should be clear to everyone by now that Vladimir Putin aspires to be more King George than George Washington. He seeks to weaken western democracies so he can be stronger. He seeks to make western democracies poorer so he can be richer. He has significantly ramped up efforts against America and our allies.

This is not in dispute. The only question is: Will we let him get away with it?

A few years ago, we adopted sanctions against Russia because it had abandoned the rule of law and punished its own citizens who dissented. Russians like Sergei Magnitsky were tortured and murdered for the virtuous act of uncovering corruption.

The existing sanctions put economic pressure on Russia. They’re a way to press the lever without engaging in military action, and can be effective especially when other nations follow. For example, sanctions helped us halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran.

Now, the U.S. House should approve further sanctions against Russia, like those that passed the Senate 98-2. Russia, and anyone who aided and abetted it, must be held accountable for attempts to undermine our democracy.

This is not about re-litigating the 2016 presidential election or any of the deep policy disagreements I have with the president.

This is about safeguarding our democracy, pure and simple.

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Olympia, has represented Washington’s 10th Congressional District since 2013, and serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.