The Trump administration has been accused of trying to pressure another foreign country to help Trump’s re-election prospects, according to a letter from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This letter cites Brazilian press reports which report that US Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman pressured members of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to lower ethanol tariffs in order to support President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts.
In the letter, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel asks Chapman to explain an article in which the Ambassador allegedly called for tariffs to be lowered as a “favor” of the Brazilian government in the re-election campaign. from Trump.
“Iowa is the largest producer of ethanol in the United States … and could be a key player in Trump’s election,” read an article in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo. “Hence the importance – according to Chapman – for the Bolsonaro government to be of service to the United States.
Beyond the O Globo report, the New York Times notes, another Brazilian outlet, Estadão, ran a similar story based on its own reporting, with reporters finding that Chapman made the request and was turned away by officials. government.
Alceu Moreira, a Brazilian congressman, also told The Times that Chapman “made repeated references to the electoral calendar during a recent meeting between the two men over ethanol.”
Engel called on Chapman to respond to the reports by Aug. 4 and provide him with “all documents that refer to or relate to discussions” with Brazilian officials.
If the reports are correct, the letter says, Chapman’s actions could violate the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from engaging in certain political activities, such as partisan campaigning for candidates.
A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that Chapman’s efforts were part of a policy of pushing for lower tariffs in general, and not narrowly focused on supporting a campaign. presidential election in place.
“The allegations suggesting that Ambassador Chapman asked the Brazilians to support a specific American candidate are false,” the statement said. “The United States has long focused on reducing tariff barriers and will continue to do so.”
Foreign interference spoiled the 2016 elections. Requests for interference led to impeachment.
The reports are also concerning because of how close they echo the demand that led to Trump’s impeachment.
Last July, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor” in a phone call in which he asked the leader to look into the business connections of Hunter Biden, the son of the candidate of then, now presumed Democratic candidate Joe Biden. In that call, Trump seemed to condition the much-needed military aid Ukraine on Zelensky’s willingness to seek out information that could be used to discredit Biden.
A congressional investigation into the call has revealed how the Trump administration has used traditional diplomatic channels – including the office of the US Ambassador to the European Union – to achieve this goal.
It is not known if Trump was involved in Chapman’s pressure campaign on ethanol, but as Zack Beauchamp of Vox wrote during the 2019 impeachment hearings, testimony from another Trump ambassador – l Former US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland – has shown a willingness on Trump’s part “to use US foreign policy as a tool to consolidate his own hold on power.”
And that worries Trump’s criticisms of the Brazilian reports, with Engel warning Chapman in his letter: “Elections in the United States are reserved for the American people and the American people.
In issuing the warning, the letter explicitly links Chapman’s announced campaign to the 2016 election, which foreign governments repeatedly tried to influence, according to the results of a Senate inquiry.
“In view of the events of 2016, it is all the more important for American ambassadors serving our country abroad not to get involved in the American elections or to encourage foreign government officials from any branch. government to do so, ”the letter said.
The warning follows reports that Russia actively worked to disrupt the November elections – as well as the Democratic presidential primary. But politicians and pundits have warned that the United States is not as prepared as it should be to fight such interference, leaving it vulnerable to attempts to interfere not only by adversaries, but also by Americans who, as Engel writes, “should know more. ”
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