The Republican National Committee may not yet realize it, but it just caught a federal criminal case by boasting about jamming Democratic congressional office phone lines.
I know, because I served three months in Loretto Federal Correctional Institution for doing the same thing in 2002 on behalf of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee at the behest of an RNC representative.
So I was aghast to read Tuesday that the RNC paid for phone calls to Democratic congressional offices with the intent of “tying up the phone lines of the elected officials,” according to The New York Times. I’d advise the RNC to again set aside $5 million for its legal defense—the same amount it spent in 2002 defending its own in a phone-jamming case.
The paste is out of the tube this time. No matter how vigorously the RNC protests that it was only advocating to Democratic congressional offices about impeachment, two people briefed on what was said at the “Off the Record” event—attended by RNC officials, Republican elected officials and party aides and advisers—say RNC officials there were clear that the intent of the automated calls was to jam the phone lines of Democratic elected officials. (In response to the article, the RNC denied that the calls were automated.)
If things are as The Times described them, then these actions clearly crossed the line separating advocacy from intent to harass—and, as I learned the hard way, phone harassment is a federal crime.
At a minimum, the Federal Bureau of Investigation should examine whether this warrants criminal charges. The trail won’t be hard to follow: begin with the “Off the Record” event and its attendees (the GOP elected officials should be of special interest to investigators).
The seriousness of this alleged conduct cannot be overstated. The intent to jam phone lines of Democratic congressional offices has the effect of disrupting the business of the U.S. government. The question is whether law enforcement will investigate.
When confronted by the FBI and later by the Department of Justice with the effect of my own conduct in jamming phone lines around the 2002 NH Senate election, I pleaded guilty upon realizing my injurious behavior. To read now that the RNC continues to use such tactics is maddening. Repeated use of the same tactic by the RNC speaks to an institutional flaw and a disregard for the republic its members claim to cherish.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has said it is “frightening to see how Democrats undermine our democracy” as she vowed to cause “chaos” in response to the impeachment inquiries, having previously tweeted that “Democrats hate our president more than they love our country.” I’m familiar with the win-at-all-costs, ends-justify-the-means mentality, having exhibited it myself as a Republican campaign operative. Normative behavior would stipulate that President Trump condemn such actions by the RNC and ask for McDaniel’s resignation if she hadn’t already volunteered it. Don’t hold your breath.
One of my regrets over the New Hampshire phone-jamming is that my behavior normalized conduct that undermines the foundation of our republic. Consider this: If the republic is a great shining city on a hill, then my role in the case was equivalent to removing one brick from the foundation that buttresses that city. Since 2002, many bricks have been removed and our institutions are feeling the neglect—as is America’s standing in the world. If we as a republic are willing to tolerate domestic bad actors within our political system taking criminal actions to damage our democratic institutions, then we should expect foreign actors to hold our republic and systems in low esteem and treat us accordingly.
“If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” President Lincoln said before the Civil War. McDaniel now has that choice before her: to be an author and finisher of our democracy by defending the evidently illegal conduct of her committee, or to be a champion of that democracy and root out the bad actors at the RNC who have put their hatred of Democrats above their love of country.
Allen Raymond is the author of How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative.