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Reality Check: How Our Founders Tried To Protect U.S. From Foreign Corruption

The founders believed foreign money would grease the wheels of corruption, and they were right, John Avlon said.
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CNN's John Berman introduced John Avlon's Reality Check on government corruption with praise.

"So with the daily 'drip drip drip,' it's worth remembering that somebody warned about all of this already. They're called the Founding Fathers. John Avlon explains in our Reality Check. And John, I love you're doing this because this is one of the foundational issues of the republic."

"This is basic stuff. Look, every day it seems there are new democratic norms being broken. Decency and civility discarded and foreign policy driven by self-interest. And in the sea of partisan spin and ethics, we are seeing things once considered as clear wrongs get rationalized on a regular basis. We've seen the argument of military aid to urge an investigation against political rivals is just fine and we should all get over it," Avlon said.

"We see a Fox News host who supported Bill Clinton's impeachment now talk about a secret Soviet-style coup attempt. While one of the president's legal advocates claims it's regicide -- the equivalent of killing a king. President Trump reportedly told Russian officials in the Oval Office. And we hear folks argue that foreign interference in our elections is no big deal, as President Trump reportedly told Russian officials in the Oval Office. But remember, the baseline issue in the impeachment inquiry is about foreign interference in our elections being solicited by the president for his personal gain. And this is a core constitutional concern.

"Let's play a quick game of what would the Founders say. George Washington warned us that history and experience proved one of the most baneful foes of republican government. It was also a core concern of Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention, where he argued that 'foreign powers will also not be idle spectators. They will interpose. The confusion will increase and a disillusion of the union ensue.' Look, that's serious stuff even if it wasn't catchy enough to make the musical. So even back then, everyone knew the danger of foreign influence on democracy. That disinformation would be spread, designed to divide us, while foreign money would grease the wheels of corruption. And that's why the Founders warned about the corrupting influence of money and gifts.


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"And the incident that spurred it is absurdly small: concern that a miniature portrait of the French king might corrupt the judgment of Benjamin Franklin. So they passed the Emoluments Clause, forbidding federal officials from accepting any difts or payments from a foreign state. So if a tiny portrait got the Founders freaked out, it's safe to say they would have really hated the idea of the president making world leaders stay at his resort. But that's exactly what was announced yesterday afternoon. And as the Washington Post points out, that decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself.

"So don't get distracted by the constant moving of goal posts and attempts to muddy moral clarity with hyperpartisan appeals. Instead, let's try to be guided by the fundamental set out by our Founders, basic moral standards of right and wrong. Remembering that when people resort to fearmongering and lies, it's because the facts aren't in their favor. Congressman Elijah Cummings who passed away yesterday might have said it best. 'When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, 'What did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?"

"And that's your reality check."

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