(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump on Thursday defended his saying that he would “take” political dirt on political opponents from foreign governments in the 2020 election.
In an exclusive interview that aired Wednesday night, the president was asked by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos if his campaign would accept political dirt from foreigners — such as China or Russia — or hand it over the FBI.
Trump said, “I think maybe you do both.”
“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.”
Trump disputed the idea that if a foreign government provided information on a political opponent it would be considered interference in the U.S. election process but said he might contact the FBI under certain circumstances.
“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.”
On Thursday morning, he tweeted his first response to a growing firestorm of criticism, conflating holding meetings with foreign dignitaries like the Queen of England or French President Emmanuel Macron with accepting intelligence on a political rival from a foreign adversary like China or Russia. The president said he talks about “everything” with other world leaders but that doesn’t mean he has to call the FBI.
“I meet and talk to “foreign governments” every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Wales, 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! I would never be trusted again. With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters,” Trump said.
ABC News has posted a transcript of that portion of the interview.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the Senate floor Thursday morning, denounced the president’s comments as “un-American.”
“It’s as if the president has learned absolutely nothing,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “The president’s comments again are undemocratic, un-American, and disgraceful.”
Even one of the president’s closest allies on Capitol Hill did not come to his defense. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the president’s response was “not the right answer.”
“If a foreign government comes to you as a public official, and offers to help your campaign giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no,” he said.
When pressed again, Graham called the president’s answer “a mistake. “
“I think it’s a mistake. I think it’s a mistake of law. I don’t want to send a signal to encourage this,” Graham said.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said if a foreign adversary approached him with information he would call the FBI.
“I can’t speak for the president I can only speak for me, if a foreign agent approached me with anything including but not limited to dirt on my opponent, I’d call the FBI. And I think most people would, and frankly, I think the president would,” Kennedy said.
As did the president in the interview, Graham quickly pivoted to attacking Democrats and pointed a finger at information gathered against Trump in the Steele dossier.
“I’m hoping some of my Democratic colleagues will take more seriously the fact that Christopher Steele was a foreign agent paid for by the Democratic Party, to gather dirt on Trump,” Graham added.
Schumer said that later Thursday Democratic Sen. Mark Warner will ask the Senate to pass a bill introduced in May called the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act, or FIRE. The bill would require political campaigns to report attempts to influence elections by foreign powers. Campaign officials would have to report within one week any outreach by foreign nationals who attempt to make any donations or offer assistance in any way.
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