Lawmakers pushed back strenuously on President Donald Trump’s claim during a television interview Wednesday that accepting “dirt” on political opponents from foreign sources is routine.
Democrats responded incredulously to Trump’s statement that he would accept intelligence on a political opponent from another country if offered, and that doing so is common practice in congressional campaigns.
“What the president said last night shows clearly once again, over and over again, that he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. And that’s probably the nicest thing I could say about it,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said to reporters Thursday.
In an interview ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump equated information gathered from a foreign actors to opposition research — the standard practice of a politician digging up damaging information on an opponent.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘Oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research. ”
At least one member of Trump’s own party, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, strongly condemned accepting information about another candidate from a foreign government and said that in all the races he’s run, he’s never done so.
“It would strike at the heart of our democracy to have a foreign government providing information to a campaign or a candidate of a substantial nature to try and influence an election,” Romney told reporters. “That would be wrong and unthinkable that any candidate for president would accept information.”
Romney said he hoped the president was not inviting such interference into the 2020 elections.
“I’ve run run for Senate twice. I’ve run for governor once. I’ve run for president twice,” Romney continued. “So far as I know, we never received any information from any foreign government. And had we received any information, particularly from a hostile government, we would have immediately informed the FBI.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, it is illegal for a foreign national to make any contribute anything of value to a federal candidates.
Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee pushed back on Trump’s conflation of the two types of information gathering as “ridiculous” because “one is illegal.”
“No congressman has probably have ever been offered oppo research from a foreign entity. He’s so wacko,” Cohen, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said of Trump in an interview with CNN.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the Intelligence Committee, called the president’s assertion “astonishing.”
Trump doubled down on Twitter Thursday morning, equating accepting foreign intelligence on an opponent to presidential visits with heads of state and dignitaries.
“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Whales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’ Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous!” Trump tweeted.
The president later deleted the tweet, which misspelled Wales.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont called Trump’s statement that his campaign would accept foreign opposition research “so wrong and so dangerous” and renewed calls for the Republican-controlled Senate to take up legislation to safeguard U.S. elections. Bills to tighten election security passed by the Democrat-controlled House have languished in the other chamber because of the resistance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
This is so wrong and so dangerous. @SenateMajLdr McConnell needs to bring election security legislation to the floor TODAY. Doing nothing is an invitation to every foreign adversary to interfere in our elections. https://t.co/KnWLgVh2en
Rep. Al Green of Texas, a longtime cosponsor of a resolution that would instruct the House Judiciary Committee to explore initiating impeachment proceedings, renewed his calls for impeachment.
Russian interference in 2016 U.S. elections was a major issue, but President Trump has said he would still accept information from a foreign power about an opponent in 2020. This will NOT make America great. Will we allow this interference to continue? #ImpeachTrump
Republicans have pushed back on criticism of the White House by equating Trump hypothetically accepting campaign help from a foreign government to his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign accepting a dossier of opposition research on Trump collected by Christopher Steele, a British national.
“[W]e had a major American political party hire a foreign national, Christopher Steele, to dig up dirt on an American presidential candidate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement.
“As if that was not bad enough, the foreign national compiled an unverified dossier that was then used by the FBI to obtain a warrant against an American citizen and surveil an American presidential campaign.”
Lindsey McPherson, Niels Lesniewski and Simone Pathe contributed reporting.