Law & Order In The Age Of Trump: Part 2

Investigating White House ties to Russia

News Writer Gina Selig

Graphics/Comic Artist Tiffany Erickson

Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Russian Bear hacking election 2017

“I feel that the alleged ties between President Trump and Russia are just that… alleged!” - Debra Morrow, political science major

“The fact that we the people, with the interference of Russia, put a man so unqualified and unfitting into office is very disheartening and makes me very sad.” - Madalyn Muñoz, marine science major

Throughout the past several months, there has been much speculation about the Russian hacking of DNC emails, and the broader scope of Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Many people think that Moscow had a significant role in influencing the country’s voters to favor Trump, while others - notably, Trump and his supporters - take issue with those claims.

So far, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has called for a bipartisan probe - an investigation conducted by both Republicans and Democrats - into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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What does Trump say about this? He has rejected any allegations of Russia’s influence on the elections. This is in spite of the CIA’s conclusions confirming Russia acted to help Trump win. It is important to dig into the facts when assessing an accusation as great as this.

In October 2016, the US government announced that it was confident that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and other organizations of the Democratic Party. The hacks included the release of many stolen emails which damaged the Democratic Party and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The CIA also claimed that these tactics were aimed at helping Trump win and not to just damage Hillary’s reputation.

It was also concluded by the CIA that Russian hackers breached GOP individuals and organizations prior to the election. Even a former senior law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the hack investigation told CNN of this. Investigators also found digital footprints of individuals tied to the Russian government who had been on intelligence agencies’ radar before, which was publicly announced in October.

For critics of Trump, what is to be done? Trump’s predecessor has plenty to say on the matter. In a recent interview with NPR, former President Barack Obama claimed that Putin is "well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it."

"I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action. And we will, at a time and place of our own choosing," added Obama.

As for Trump’s response to the allegations?

"I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it. I don't know why and I think it's just -- you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it's another excuse...No, I don't believe that at all," Trump said. "They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean they have no idea."

As Congress attempts to uncover any evidence of malfeasance on the part of the Russian government - or Trump and his staffers - students at UH Hilo gave Ke Kalahea their thoughts on the political atmosphere.

Debra Morrow, a political science major, expressed skepticism over any inappropriate connection between Trump and Russia. “I feel that the alleged ties between President Trump and Russia are just that… alleged! I feel if Mr. Trump had any reasonable affordances with Russia it was for the good of his country. This could be the start to powerhouse nations who have never been in alliance working together for the greater good. On the other hand, it could be construed as a ploy to vanquish the American traditions. But the fact that Mr. Trump has paid his own way and not allied himself with entities that would have insurance to dictate what in fact would transpire in the nation gives him the redemption qualities to not be a puppet to his contributors.”

“If these things did transpire with Russia in regard to the administration, I feel like the American people would realize the value of our freedom of choice and would make the right decision based upon logic and reason. This is a way for America to be everything that America stands for and everything that it is, as well as everything that it was founded to be," Morrow added.

Madalyn Muñoz, a marine science major, has a different perspective on the issue.

“I wouldn’t doubt that Russia had meddled in the election. This is because how close Putin and Trump seem to be, and how much they regard each other as friends. It makes me angry. I felt like I had no choice in the election anyway because the person I wanted to vote for wasn’t there. This was Bernie, because he got beat by Hillary. It made me feel like I had less of a choice,” Muñoz said.

In addition to her thoughts on Russia’s meddling in presidential politics, Munoze was equally dismayed with Trump’s presidency as a whole.

“It sickens me that we have a man in the office that objectifies women. Trump is used to running a business, and if you run a country like you run a business you’re going to run it into the ground. He’s used to being on reality TV and this country is not a reality show. I’m also angry that he allows people to hunt bears on the wildlife refuges while they are hibernating. The fact that we the people, with the interference of Russia, put a man so unqualified and unfitting into office is very disheartening and makes me very sad. The people don’t have a voice and the hackings with Russia just proved that,” Muñoz said.

Although Trump denies any Russian influence in his presidency, many top Republicans are accepting the U.S. intelligence community’s assessments. Senator McConnell issued his own call for an investigation of the Russian hacking in a recent press conference, saying that he expressed "the highest confidence in the intelligence community, and especially in the Central Intelligence Agency," adding that, "it defies belief that somehow Republicans in the Senate are reluctant to either review Russian tactics, or ignore them."

Russian interference aside, the actions being taken by the Trump administration actions are also proving controversial in the domestic arena as well. One such policy initiative being heavily scrutinized by Trump’s allies and foes alike is his administration’s stance on marijuana. With Hawai‘i recently authorizing the opening of its first medical marijuana dispensaries, there is the question in the air about how Trump - through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) - will choose to handle a growing legalization movement. DOJ oversees such agencies as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

At the head of DOJ is the U.S. Attorney General, currently Jeff Sessions. During the first day of his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this year, then-Senator Jeff Sessions did not provide a definitive plan for how he would direct the Justice Department to treat states' legalization of a drug that is still illegal under federal law.

Sessions, who in the past has been outspokenly opposed to legalizing marijuana, admitted during questioning by his fellow U.S. senators that disrupting states' marijuana markets by enforcing federal marijuana laws could create an undue strain on federal resources.

However, responding to a question from Democratic senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sessions also said he "won't commit to never enforcing federal law.”

Trump's nomination of Sessions to be the country's top lawyer immediately raised questions about the future of a U.S. marijuana industry that brought in an estimated $6.7 billion in legal sales last year.

While Donald Trump himself voiced his support for legal medical marijuana on the campaign trail, Sessions’s placement at DOJ makes it unclear where Trump will actually stand on the question of statewide decisions to legalize the drug, for either medical or recreational purposes.

Morrow, the political science major, explains how she feels about the situation.

“The Justice Department under Jeff Sessions are at odds within itself. I feel like the people should have the opportunity to advance itself to what is fair for everyone in the nation. First and foremost, I can say that this is not an easy job to maintain, and the law is and can be construed on an individualistic basis. I do feel that we have a big problem with corrections in this country, and once someone has done something that is construed as breaking the law, then in all equality they should have a chance at redemption.”

The recent uncertainty has been a cause for concern in the marijuana industry. In the past, Sessions has publicly stated his belief that, "good people don’t smoke marijuana." The senator also said just last year that "we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized... that it is, in fact, a very real danger."