Regular readers of this column will know I have a soft spot in my heart for Larry Pressler.
He grew up on a farm a half-mile down the road from the farm where I grew up, just a stones throw away from Humboldt, South Dakota.
His folks and my folks did what all farm neighbors did back in the days when I was a kid. We helped each other. Larrys dad, Tony, was always present when it was silage cutting time at our farm every fall. It was a task that had to be done quickly, and demanded more manpower and equipment than my dad and uncle could muster. Tony Pressler was always among the fleet of neighbors who brought flocked to our farm with their tractors and wagons and their pure muscle to get the work done.
Larrys brother, Dan, while in high school, helped out, too, when it came time to bale and stack hay. I remember wishing, while I was about 6 years old, that someday I could be as strong as Dan, because I had never seen anyone who could throw a bale of hay as high as he could.
I didnt really get to know Larry in when I was kid. First he was off to college at USD and when I was 9, he attended Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar. He then received a graduate degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1971.
It wasnt until a few years after he received his law degree, while standing on the campus of South Dakota State University, that we finally met. I was a freshman there, a bit lost and wondering exactly what I had gotten myself into. Larry was running as a Republican for Congress and I had to believe he was feeling as lost as me at the time. He had no money and no staff.
I introduced myself, told him Id help in any way that a college student with no money could, and about a month later, we were all watching history unfold. He was elected.
Larry served in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1979. In 1978, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he served from 1979 to 1997.
I was reminded this last week of perhaps one thing that will stand out in years to come when it comes time to reflect on Larrys life and legacy. Love him or hate him, one thing stands out when it came time to do the right thing, he did just that.
I was reminded of that moment in Larrys still rather young political life while listening to President Trump being interviewed by ABCs George Stephanopoulos last week.
Stephanopoulos asked Trump about receiving information on any of his political opponents from foreign intelligence and Trump said, basically, yeah, hed listen.
He also told Stephanopoulos that he may not alert the FBI if foreign governments offered damaging information against his 2020 rivals during the upcoming presidential race.
In 1980, Larry wasnt looking for any dirt on a political opponent. He had just recently been elected to the U.S. Senate, which had dwindled his campaign coffers. He was looking for contributions.
Larry is noted for being possibly the only one of the nine known members of Congress approached to flatly refuse to take a bribe from undercover FBI agents and then to report the bribe attempt to the FBI during the Abscam investigations held that year. The Washington Post reported in a front-page story on Sunday, Feb. 4, the following:
Thanks to the FBI's undercover "sting" operation, there now exists incontrovertible evidence that one senator would not be bought. Preserved among the videotape footage that may be used as bribery evidence against a number of members of Congress, there is a special moment in which Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) tells the undercover agents, in effect, to take their sting and stick it. Pressler, according to law enforcement sources was the one approached member of Congress who flatly refused to consider financial favors in exchange for legislative favors, as suggested by undercover agents posing as Arabs. At the time he said he was not aware that he was doing anything quite so heroic.
In an overall review of the Abscam cases, Judge J. Pratt had the highest praise for Senator Pressler. "Pressler, particularly, acted as citizens have a right to expect their elected representatives to act. He showed a clear awareness of the line between proper and improper conduct, and despite his confessed need for campaign money, and despite the additional attractiveness to him of the payment offered, he nevertheless refused to cross into impropriety."
Despite the deluge of investigations stemming from his campaign's interactions with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Stephanopoulos asked Trump last week in the Oval Office whether his reelection campaign would accept campaign information about his opponents from foreigners such as China or Russia or hand it over the FBI, Trump answered, "I think maybe you do both."
Trump disputed the idea that if a foreign government provided information on a political opponent, it would be considered interference in our election process. He also told Stephanopoulos that he may not alert the FBI if foreign governments offered damaging information against his 2020 rivals.
For Larry, doing the right thing was easy. For Trump, its so very, very hard for him to even recognize what the right thing is. Its why these past few days Ive been reliving some of those good ol days from early in Larrys political career.
Funny, I never thought that an era just a few years after Watergate would truly be such a good time, politically, for our nation.