North Carolina

Beat Trump then put him on trial for crimes, North Carolina Senate candidate says

North Carolina state Sen. Erica Smith, who is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. senator, said President Donald Trump should be defeated in an election and then put on trial for “crimes against this country.”

“Beat him at the ballot box and then hold him responsible as a private citizen for his crimes against this country and against federal employees,” Smith told The News & Observer in a phone interview. “It’s time for him to be controlled and contained.”

Smith faces former North Carolina state Sen. Cal Cunningham and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller in the Democratic primary. Incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis is running for re-election and has two GOP challengers — retired Raleigh businessman and author Garland Tucker and farmer Sandy Smith.

Erica Smith said she supports the impeachment inquiry that has been launched by Democrats in the U.S. House. But she said she was concerned that impeachment proceedings would have a divisive impact on the country.

“Every time we have had an impeachment, it has torn the country apart,” Smith said. “There’s no reason for our country to be torn apart when veterans on both sides of the aisle are beginning to see that the criminal conduct of this president makes him unfit to serve. Our Congress has a duty to protect our security as a country and protect the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

Smith cited the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky as one example of criminal behavior by Trump. During the call, Trump asked Ukraine to look into former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. At the time, Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine.

On Thursday morning, Trump again called on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. He also said China should investigate them.

“Beyond, to me, being morally wrong, he did solicit help from a foreign country and he cannot do that,” Smith said. “I have questions not only about the 2016 election, but the security of the 2020 election.”

Under U.S. law, it is illegal for a foreign national to make a “contribution or donation of money or other thing of value ... in connection with a Federal, State, or local election.” And it is illegal for “a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation” from a foreign national.

Smith said she was further troubled by Trump’s insistence on finding out the identify of an intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint about the handling of the July 25 call ignited the recent impeachment push. She called his behavior “psychopathic.”

“I put high up there on that list of criminal conduct, a violation of the whistleblower act and seeking to find the identity of the whistleblower,” she said.

“We always ask, ‘How did the Holocaust happen?’ There was an evil, narcissistic dictator in place that people did not stand up to and challenge on his immorality.”

Smith was upset about an excerpt from a new book, “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration,” that Trump wanted to build a moat filled with alligators and snakes in front of his long-promised border wall on the southern border. Trump, according to the article excerpted from the book, also asked whether the U.S. could shoot migrants and asylum-seekers in the leg.

Other outlets have confirmed Trump made those statements. Trump has denied the reports.

“Talking about something as inhumane as putting alligators and snakes or something like shooting migrants or asylum speakers in the leg,” she said. “It’s sickening. It really is.”

Trump in a tweet said: “Now the press is trying to sell the fact that I wanted a Moat stuffed with alligators and snakes, with an electrified fence and sharp spikes on top, at our Southern Border. I may be tough on Border Security, but not that tough. The press has gone Crazy. Fake News!”

Smith, 49, raised about $90,000 in the first half of the year. She said her campaign is still processing its third-quarter fundraising numbers. Smith said her campaign recently opened a campaign headquarters in Raleigh. She has been endorsed by Flip the Senate.

Smith worked for Boeing as an engineer and then as a federal employee at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where she said she held a security clearance for more than 10 years. She is a high school math and science teacher.

Cunningham’s campaign announced that he raised more than $1 million in the third quarter and has more than $1.1 million cash on hand. He has earned the support of much of the state’s Democratic establishment, including former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and former state treasurer Janet Cowell.

Cunningham said in an June interview that he wanted to see the House open an inquiry, but said “probably the most effective way to hold this administration accountable is at the ballot box.”

Fuller said last month that “the president is becoming more lawless by the day. I’m just concerned he believes he can get away with anything and we can let no president feel that way.”

Two prominent national groups that rate races have moved the North Carolina Senate race toward the Democrats recently. The Cook Political Report moved the race to “lean Republican,” while Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the race to “toss up” on Thursday.

In a statement, the Tillis campaign said Smith and Cunningham are “blinded by their hatred for President Trump.”

“While Smith and Cunningham continue to march to the tune of the radical liberals running for president, Senator Tillis will stay focused on working with President Trump to actually get things done for the people of North Carolina,” said Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the Tillis campaign.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Domecast politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it on Megaphone, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or