Commentary: Hissy fits and smoke screens aren’t a defense strategy

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – By now, Russian leader Vladimir Putin must be convinced we Americans are a nation of morons.

The evidence that Putin sought to influence the 2016 presidential election is compelling. That fact ought to demand a strong response, one asserting our determination to conduct our own affairs.

John Krull, publisher,

Instead, we have responded by throwing hissy fits and blowing smoke.

The latest example is the news that the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign continued funding opposition research on now President Donald Trump’s ties with Russia. The research initially had been begun by one of Trump’s Republican primary opponents.

This revelation came as a shock only to those people still naïve enough to believe in Santa Claus.

I’ve been covering politics and politicians for a long, long, long time. I’ve lost track of the number of times political operatives – Democrat or Republican – have tried to pitch me something damaging about their opponents.

Most of the time, the material is merely salacious and often intensely personal. Over the years, I’ve been told much, much too much about political candidates’ divorces, their extramarital affairs, the problems their children have had, their youthful indiscretions with drugs or drink, their strained relationships with family members.

I’m not alone in this. Most journalists get shopped such material.

Most of us – the responsible ones – choose not to report it. Human beings, not gods or saints, run for public office in this country – and human beings can’t make it through life without stumbling or getting scuffed up.

What we will report is the stuff that might affect a person’s ability to fill the office or might compromise the public interest.

That’s why, if we see evidence of business or financial ties that might amount to a conflict of interest, we report that. The same goes for evidence of duplicity, dishonesty or hypocrisy.

Because those are things the public has a right to know.

Things the public has a need to know.

This brings us to the Trump/Clinton/Russia story.

Everything I have seen thus far about Russia’s role in the 2016 election leads me to the conclusion that what investigators are likely to find will be unsavory, embarrassing and perhaps politically damaging.

But not grounds for impeachment.

Not grounds for overturning a national election.

I’ve talked with prosecutors and constitutional law professors about Russia’s efforts to tamper with the election and the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with those efforts.

To a person, those prosecutors and constitutional law experts have said that, unless evidence of tampered ballots or some other tangible other election fraud is uncovered, it will be next to impossible to make a case for collusion. What the Russians did was disseminate information – some of it even accurate – to influence voters’ choices.

And, in this country, disseminating information is constitutionally protected.

The ways American leaders – the president, his campaign team, Democratic political operatives – could get into serious legal trouble involve withholding information vital to national security or obstructing justice.

That is why Democrats should release every bit of information about any opposition research they might have commissioned about the president’s ties with Russia. At this stage, any personal indiscretions Donald Trump might have committed or any embarrassment Democrats might feel at being caught dumpster-diving are far less important than determining how we preserve our national autonomy.

And the president?

Well, he should stop trying to either discredit or fire every special prosecutor or law enforcement official charged with investigating this mess. He also should release his tax returns and all other records of his financial dealings with Russia so we can be assured his sole interest in this matter is the nation’s interest.

President Trump often seems not to realize the November election made him not our boss, but our servant.

For as long as he occupies the White House, he doesn’t own us.

We own him.

Releasing his financial records would demonstrate he understands that.

It also might convince Putin he’s not dealing with a nation of idiots.

Putin slipped a knife into this nation’s back last year.

But instead of pulling that knife out and figuring out how to use it against the Russian strong man, we’re spending all our time squabbling about whether the blade was bought with cash, check or charge.

While we argue, the nation bleeds.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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