Influence (n): the capacity to have an effect on someone
The scandal of the day last week was the accusations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice in 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Two controversies arose because Sessions was advising candidate Trump’s campaign, and in his senate confirmation hearings he stated that he never met with Russian officials in 2016. When news reports accused him of meeting with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he acknowledged the meetings, said he did not recall talking about anything about the campaign and claimed that such meeting with foreign officials was routine, thus nothing to get all hung about.
Later, senator Claire McCaskill tweeted that senators do not routinely meet with foreign officials and claimed that she had never had such meetings. This claim too became suspect when news reporters identified that the senator had two meetings with a groups of foreign officials, including Russian officials.
Then over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that he had just learned that President Obama had bugged (e.g. wiretapped) his office in Trump towers. This claim was disputed for lack of evidence and lack of official protocol or authority of any president to so. Also, the source of President Trump’s claim was the internet news opinion blog, Brietbart, whom his advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka used to write for.
The issue on the table here is how politician are influenced by advisors, officials not from our government (e.g. foreign officials), and other sources. Who had the ear of the president has always been an issue. In the current administration, his advisors are the concern. Most appear to hold positions of opposing government regulation and promoting deconstruction of the administrations which they now run. Second, from the link between news reports from various sources and the timing of President’s Trump’s unfiltered tweets, the president’s addiction to the news and needing to express his opinions is evident.
regarding the senator’s meetings, individually and in groups, the question is how do such meetings influence their thinking and government decisions. Conspiracies are very difficult to prove because one must verify the motivation of those involved. Verifying meeting dates and durations may be easy from calendar records. What occurred is questionable. If some topics of questionable themes came up, these are not likely to be documented in notes from the meeting, especially if no administrative aides are present.
Rather, influence is more likely to be soft. How does meeting with anyone influence our favorable assessment of that person, even when no specific topics came up?
I recall coming a cross a research study on exposure and favorable impression. I was wandering about the library at NYU 25 years ago, while taking a break from researching my masters degree. In the report that I came upon, the researchers on a university campus put up signs with a non-sense name about campus with no explanation, prior to the annual student government elections. They took the signs down before the campaigning began. During the campaign, they sent students out with surveys about students’ opinions of the various candidates. They included the non-sense name on the list. Even though that name was no longer posted around campus, the non-sense name received favorable ratings.
While we may like to believe that we are informed and independent thinking, often we are influenced by mere familiarity.
President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are not likely to be tried for conspiracy or treason for meeting with Russian officials. More likely they are going to be spanked in the news for misleading comments. But, might they hold favorable views of certain officials merely for having prior contacts?
On our side, we constituents of our elected officials can use this principle of influence through familiarity by keeping our presence in our government officials mailboxes and e-mail incoming mail boxes. Keep writing. Keep presenting your opinions. The more time our elected officials are responding to us, the less time they have to be getting caught into scandals.