On Wednesday, an excerpt of an interview with President Trump was released by ABC News in which the president was asked if his campaign would accept information from Russia or China or tell the FBI. He said, “I think you do both,” using Norway as an example.
“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
“Somebody comes up and says, ‘hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump said. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. Oh, give me a break – life doesn’t work that way.”
After facing severe backlash over those comments, President Trump called in to Fox & Friends and, in a 50 minute call, attempted to walk back those comments. He said, “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. It’s called oppo research.”
The president also stated he does not see the situation arising in the run-up to the 2020 election. “Nobody’s gonna present me with anything bad, and number 2, if I was – and of course, you have to look at it, because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad, but, of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to attorney general or somebody like that. But of course you do that, you couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that and I thought it was made clear.”
Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the FEC, released a statement on Thursday in response to the president’s comments on Wednesday, attempting to clarify the legality of the situation. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” she wrote in the statement and her tweet read, “I would not have thought I needed to say this.”
Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, told CBS News on “Red & Blue” that the campaign will follow the president’s directive laid out in his comments to Stephanopoulos on Wednesday. She said, “The president’s directive, as he said, [it’s] a case by case basis. He said he would likely do both: Listen to what they have to say, but also report it to the FBI.” She denied that Trump’s comments were an invitation to foreign interference in the 2020 election.
McEnany called the backlash against Trump’s comments about his willingness to receive information from foreign nationals ironic and claimed the Democrats are open to being given dirt on their rivals from foreigners.
She said, “They are the ones who have done this. And it’s notable there is media outrage and no discussion of the Steele dossier, written by a British spy, paid for the DNC and Hillary Clinton, and that information being from Russian sources given to a British spy perpetuated through the FBI.”
In spite of Republican claims, the Steele dossier did not begin the Russia investigation. In addition, Fusion GPS, a private investigative firm, was hired by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news organization. Fusion, in turn, hired Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, to conduct opposition research on then-candidate Donald Trump.
Why It Matters
As Ellen Weintraub succinctly pointed out in her statement, “Election intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Foundering Fathers sounded the alarm on “foreign Interference, Intrigue, and Influence.” They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their interests, not America’s.”
The one thing our Founders feared more than anything was a president who was under the sway of a foreign government. The danger of such an eventuality has not changed in the subsequent years.
Donald Trump claims, incredibly, that no one would approach him with “dirt” on his Democratic opponents. Not only did his son, son-in-law, and campaign manager take a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer offering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, but Jared Kushner in a recent Axios interview, said, “It’s hard to do hypotheticals” when pressed about reporting future offers of dirt from foreign nationals to the FBI.
In addition, when his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was planning on traveling to Ukraine to urge the new president to open an investigation on Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Trump said it would be “appropriate” for him to have his own Attorney General open an investigation on a political rival such as Joe Biden.
US intelligence agencies all agree that Russia interfered in our election to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Trump has publicly sided with Vladimir Putin over our intelligence community and also, this week, refuted the current FBI director who told Congress “the FBI would want to know about” election meddling. Trump told George Stephanopoulos, “The FBI director is wrong, because frankly it doesn’t happen like that in life.”
As Weintraub said, “Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong side of a federal investigation.”