The mainstream media and out-of-touch politicians and bureaucrats want us to believe that the Cold War never ended, it’s a crime to talk with a Russian, and we should all be fearful of any Russians here in the U.S. Apparently our $21 trillion national debt, lack of border security, and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism pale in comparison to the grave threat posed by Russia. This is yet another example of the disconnect between Beltway talking heads and the American people. Hard-working Americans — including constituents in my Kentucky district — care about jobs, paying the bills, putting food on the table, and leaving this country a better place for their children. The alleged “vast Russian conspiracy” harped upon by the Democrats and media since the election of President Trump is simply not a concern of normal Americans.

To date, “proof” of a Russian conspiracy to interfere in U.S. elections includes only Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of 13 Russian nationals and 12 Russian intelligence officers. The Russian nationals are accused of identity theft that allowed them to create fake social media accounts, and the 12 Russian intelligence officers are alleged to have hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign prior to the 2016 election. Most importantly, all indictments fail to allege that a single U.S. vote was changed.

Unfortunately, what began as only Russophobic rhetoric seems to have turned into a witch hunt, as President Trump calls it.

For example, the current hysteria may have motivated the recent arrest and indictment of Maria Butina, a former Russian graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C.  Unlike many accused of violent crimes, Butina (who has not been accused of harming anyone) was denied bail, and is now reportedly being held in solitary confinement in federal prison until her trial. The indictment claims she acted as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Thin on substance, it oddly suggests, for example, that attendance at a National Prayer Breakfast is something nefarious.

My colleague Dana Rohrabacher and I met with the Russian delegation that attended the prayer breakfast last year. Congressman Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for President Reagan during the Cold War, was once on the front lines with the mujahedeen when they fought the Soviets, yet even he now faces criticism for seeking better relations with Russia.

While our justice system has always upheld the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty,” the relentless negative press surrounding Butina’s arrest presumes her guilt. So far, the evidence mostly shows that she is simply a strong supporter of the right to bear arms, has advocated for this right in Russia, and genuinely hoped for improved Russia-U.S. relations. These are not crimes.

What if Russia decided to indict and imprison an American student in Russia based upon thin evidence and charges of acting as an “unregistered U.S. agent”? The Golden Rule applies to nations, not just individuals.

This is why the  recent visit to Russia by my fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul is so courageous. In attempting to keep the lines of communication open between our two countries, he demonstrates true statesmanship amid a new xenophobic isolationism sweeping the anti-Trump media.

Sen. Paul’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev reminds me of President Reagan’s summits with that former leader of the Soviet Union. Like Paul and President Trump, Ronald Reagan believed in the power of a willingness to talk with our adversaries. Many believe that Reagan’s cordial relationship with Gorbachev encouraged the policies of “perestroika” and “glasnost” — an openness to freedom that led to communism’s downfall in Russia.

True leaders understand that dialogue is the quickest pathway to peace. As my colleague Rep. Rohrabacher says, “We need to find areas of cooperation and peace instead of constant belligerence that can only lead to war.” Contrary to what the D.C. elites would have you believe, Russia is not the biggest threat facing the United States today. The Russia scare is a distraction from our real threats, which include our massive national debt, porous borders, and an out-of-control federal government that claims the right to spy on Americans without a warrant.

It’s time to end the obsession with Russia. In the words of the famous English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A great nation ought not to be a hammer, but a magnet.” Let’s stop the bellicose rhetoric and instead start leading by example.

Thomas Massie is a Republican member of the House who has represented Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District since 2012.

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