“Our Constitutional democracy is currently being subjected to a stress test,” U.S. Senator and recent Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine told the News-Press in an exclusive interview at the Rare Bird coffee shop in downtown Falls Church Monday morning, “and I am confident our institutions will be vindicated.”
Kaine immediately jumped to a history lesson. “In September 1787, our founding fathers crafted a Constitution with a system of checks and balances, and the overwhelming motivation behind it was to keep an executive from running wild.” He said the guarantees of the First Amendment, the establishment that Supreme Court justices and judges cannot be fired and other measures were set up to limit the impact of an executive who doesn’t care about limits.
“Now there is a tremendous energy being exercised to minimize the risks of an overreaching executive,” Kaine said, citing four components addressing President Trump’s “insecurity” about the evidence of Russian involvement in the 2016 election and his “extreme nervousness” about the allegations that his campaign cooperated with that foreign intrusion.
Before the issue of impeachment arises, he said, the four components currently active are: 1. the Senate intelligence committee moving ahead in a bipartisan way with Kaine’s Virginia Senate colleague Mark Warner as the vice-chair; 2. the criminal investigation that is ongoing at the Justice Department after Attorney General Sessions was compelled to recuse himself because he lied about his own contact with the Russians; 3. journalists who are doing their job; and, 4. the intelligence community itself, with both current and retired professionals weighing in.
He singled out the insights of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Clapper has said on national TV that the nation’s core democratic institutions are under assault from Trump).
On the key questions being pursued — what did the Russians do and was there a level of cooperation with the Trump team – Kaine commented, “There is a strong chance of cooperation.” He added that the Russians didn’t attack the U.S. election because the Trump team asked it to, but because the Russians saw it in their interest. “They did not want Hillary Clinton to be president because she had been tough on them, and they saw Trump as a softie.”
Kaine has received considerable classified briefings on the subject as a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees of the U.S. Senate.
He said the Russians have been involved with interfering in foreign elections for a long time, including in Estonia in 2007, Ukraine last year, in the British “Brexit” vote last year, and in the recent French election. Here, it involved Russian hacking and U.S. far right wing groups’ promotions of their line.
The FBI, he said, first became aware of this effort in the U.S. in March 2016, and it was last July when the Russians decided they did not want to simply sew discord, but to help the candidate of their choice, Trump, win.
Asked if it came as a surprise to find the Russians working with the radical Right, rather than Left, in the U.S., Kaine said it, “It’s surreal.”
He said that it was a personal matter for him, too. His personal cell phone that he’s had for 20 years was hacked and he began being deluged with extremist messages. Also, his son is an infantry battalion leader commanding 1,200 U.S. troops training between the Black Sea and the Baltic, and he was suddenly at great risk.
Then, he said, Trump encouraged the Russians to cyberhack the Clinton-Kaine campaign on national TV.
“It makes me furious,” he said.
He said that he’s found over the course of the presidential campaign and since that a lot of American people are living in fear, fear for the economy and their jobs, of losing their healthcare, of climate change in the face of an indifferent Trump administration, and threats to the sanctity of their marriages in the wake of recent years’ gains in LGBT equality.
“I was disappointed by the election, but it has caused so many people to be very afraid. This has motivated me. I have to have their backs now.”
He elaborated on remarks he made in fundraisers for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, who he’s endorsed for the upcoming primary (he said he also likes Northam’s primary opponent Tom Perriello and said he’d work for him if he wins). Stressing Northam’s career as a pediatric physician with a strong military background, he spoke to his character.
“I said that nobody can promise greatness if they don’t demonstrate goodness.”
Clearly alluding to Trump, he said that patterns of disrespect for women, a long history of untruthfulness, such as claiming President Obama was not a U.S. citizen, bragging about charitable contributions that he didn’t actually make, and stiffing business partners provide no evidence of goodness.
How can that translate into making America great again, he asked. “We need leaders who are devoted to others in ways the president hasn’t been.”
“I believe that things happen for a reason,” Kaine added. “We’ve been shaken out of our complacency.”
He said he is not pessimistic about the American people. He cited the spontaneous outpouring of concern of millions that animated the national Women’s Marches on January 21, and the reaction to Trump’s immigration order, when thousands poured into airports across the U.S. to welcome those arriving from “predominantly Islamic” lands. “Even at the Indianapolis airport,” he said a colleague told him, “People showed up even though there are no international flights that arrive there.”
By contrast, he noted, the “collapse of the management due to negative treatment of women at Fox News” might have contributed to its “tendency to turn a blind eye toward the president.”
He spoke of his momentous experience of meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on February 24. “At the advice of his aides, I spoke with him in Spanish” to discuss the refugee crisis, he said. “Only at the very end did he put his hand on my shoulder and say in very broken English, ‘Pray for me.’”
He observed that it is the Pope’s humility, his “willingness to be humble and to walk among his people,” and not being judgmental, that speaks to what people want.
“We need more of that kind of leader,” he said.
The founding fathers added the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a reason, he said. At first, James Madison did not want a Bill of Rights tacked onto the Constitution, but when he observed the persecution of Baptists at the hands of Church of England proponents in Culpepper County, he changed his mind.
The First Amendment established that no one shall fear punishment for their beliefs, or their lack of them, he noted. It has led to a “virulently religious society” where no one can enforce their doctrines over anyone else.
He said his passion now is to get re-elected to a second six-year U.S. Senate term next year. “I don’t assume it will be easy, but I am more committed to stay in the Senate to accrue and exercise expertise. I am in it for the long term.”
A video of the complete 25-minute interview is now being edited by the Falls Church Cable Television for airing on its channel and for posting on the News-Press website.