TEHRAN (defapress)- President Donald Trump roiled Washington on Thursday with his suggestion that he would accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign government.
News ID: 77760
Publish Date: 14June 2019 - 14:07
The remarks, made during an interview with ABC News the previous day, sparked fierce political backlash on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers faced an hours-long hounding by reporters over their position on Trump’s comments, The Hill reported.
Democrats lashed out at Trump’s suggestion that if a foreign government offered information he would “take it”, while Republicans raced to distance themselves from the US president’s remarks.
Several GOP senators, faced with either remaining silent or potentially inviting the president’s wrath, choose to break with Trump.
“I think that’s wrong. That’s a mistake,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump defender, told reporters, adding, “I’ve been consistent on this, if a public official is approached by a foreign government offering anything of value ... the right answer is 'no.' ”
Graham later said that he spoke with Trump about his election interference remarks from Wednesday and reiterated that, “when it goes down the road of 'I've got dirt on your opponent,' that's a bright line. The answer is no.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) stated that accepting information from a foreign government with the intent to meddle would be “unthinkable”.
“It would be totally inappropriate and it would strike at the heart of our democracy,” said Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee for president who has clashed with Trump several times.
“I’ve run for Senate twice, I’ve run for governor once, I’ve run for president twice, so far as I know we never received any information from any foreign government … We would have immediately informed the FBI,” Romney added.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is running for reelection in a state that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016, said the “proper action” for Trump or anyone else when a hostile foreign government offers information is to “call the FBI”.
Asked what the president should do if a foreign government offers opposition research on an opponent, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year, shot back: "Just say no."
"I mean, turn it over," Gardner added.
Complicating the political calculation for Republicans, Trump’s comments contradict advice from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was confirmed in 2017 in a 92-5 vote. Wray has announced that a politician offered dirt on a rival candidate from a foreign source should tell the FBI.
When ABC's George Stephanopoulos pointed out Wray’s remarks to Trump on Wednesday, the president said, “The FBI director is wrong.”
“I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump told ABC, adding, “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.”
His remarks come on the heels of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into interference in the 2016 election, which did not establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government. However, Mueller’s report detailed various instances of Russia attempting to interfere in the 2016 election and documented “numerous links” and conversations between Trump campaign officials and Moscow.
Democrats are using Mueller’s findings to make the case for their own investigation into Trump and his administration.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tried to pass legislation Thursday that would require a campaign to report attempted election assistance from a foreign national to the FBI, but he was blocked by Senate Republicans.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called Trump’s comments “illuminating”, adding that the president “believes he is above the law.”
“That he can commit an illegal act and not inform the FBI,” Lieu said.
Trump’s remarks have given momentum to Democrats who are calling for Trump to be impeached, a headache for Democratic leaders who want to avoid an impeachment inquiry.
“He's making his own case for us to do the inquiry. Those of us who feel the other way, those numbers are increasing. At some point, it will hit a tipping point,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) doubled down on their calls to impeach Trump in the wake of his interview; meanwhile, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) called him a “national security” threat.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday stated that Trump’s remarks showed he has “no ethical sense” but stressed it did not move the House toward impeachment.
“He does not know the difference between right and wrong and that's probably the nicest thing I can say about him,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) during a floor speech said Trump’s remarks are “undemocratic, un-American, disgraceful”.
But on the other side of the aisle, not all Republicans were as ready to criticize Trump's remarks, though none have offered to back up his claims that candidates should accept information from a foreign government.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that believes "the president would always do the right action".
"I’ve watched this president. I’ve listened to this president. He does not want foreign governments interfering in our election. He’s been very strong about that,” McCarthy said, adding, “He’s been so strong against Russia.”
Some GOP senators also tried to flip the script by raising the 2016 election and the controversial opposition research dossier against Trump, known as the Steele dossier. Sources told The Washington Post in 2017 that [Hillary] Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) helped fund the research that was ultimately turned into the dossier.
"I'm a little astonished at the outrage that I've heard because I didn't hear equal outrage when Hillary Clinton and the DNC paid a foreign spy to gather information from Russia," stated Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
But, Grassley added, the "bottom line is that whether you're a Republican campaign or a Democratic campaign you've got to be very protective of making sure that you don't do anything that enhances a goal of a foreign national or a foreign country".
Asked about Trump's comments, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), stressed that he wanted to first include the "context" that "we've got to start with the Clinton campaign that accepted information from a former foreign agent".
"If I had knowledge that it was someone from a foreign country my first phone call would be to the FBI," Tillis said.
Asked if he had accepted information from a foreign government, he added, "absolutely not".