Democrats are expressing alarm after U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed concerns about accepting information about electoral opponents from foreign powers and said such activity would not amount to interference in the U.S. political system.
“I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening,” he told ABC News in an interview released Wednesday. “If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
When asked if he wants that kind of interference in the election process, Trump said, “It’s not interference,” and that members of Congress “all do it.”
“They always have, and that’s the way it is,” Trump said.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said those comments put Trump one step away from dictators and autocrats who manipulate elections to stay in power.
“The president’s comments are undemocratic, un-American and disgraceful. The president’s comments suggest he believes winning an election is more important than the integrity of the election,” Schumer said in morning floor remarks.
Trump clarified his remarks in a Thursday tweet, writing that he talks to foreign governments every day.
“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.”
Rep. Brian Schatz rejected the president’s assertion, calling the prospect of accepting such information “crazy.”
“It is not customary or normal or legal or moral to accept campaign assistance from a foreign government. Nobody does that. Nobody,” he said.
Rep. Jim McGovern said getting information from a foreign adversary is “not normal” and that “most people would call the FBI.”
“Republicans and Democrats should both speak out — loudly and strongly — against this,” Sen. Chris Coons said. “Foreign interference in our elections is unacceptable. Period.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham did call the president’s comments “wrong and a mistake” Thursday morning. Graham told reporters, “If a public official is approached by a foreign government and offered anything of value, the answer is no — whether it’s money, opposition research.”
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told VOA, “I don’t give the president public advice (on what to say). Only in private.”
During the 2016 campaign that brought Trump to power, his son Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who offered negative information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that contact should have been reported to the agency.
“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump said when reminded of Wray’s statement.
“The duty of any patriotic American is to call the FBI if they encounter foreign interference in our elections,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. “Tragically, Donald Trump thinks patriotism is less important than his own power.”
In response to the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia operated a campaign to influence the 2016 elections with a preference for damaging Clinton’s chances and for Trump to win, the FBI launched its own campaign to combat foreign influence and encouraged both election officials and campaign staff to report suspicious activity to the agency.
Wray has also warned in recent months that Russia poses what he called a “significant counterintelligence threat” to the United States and is likely to intensify its efforts ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election that will be held in November of next year.
Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Trump had not colluded with Russia to help him win the election, but reached no decision on whether he, as president, had obstructed justice by trying to thwart Mueller’s probe.
During the campaign, Trump praised WikiLeaks, which released a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. At a campaign rally, he also urged Russia to find 30,000 emails Clinton had reportedly deleted from a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Trump later said he was joking, but Mueller wrote in his report that Trump’s comments resulted in Russian military intelligence officers targeting Clinton’s personal office within hours.
Rep. Tom Malinowski released a statement Wednesday saying he was introducing legislation that would require political campaigns to file a report with the Justice Department if they receive an offer of assistance from a foreign power or from a domestic source that involves illegal activity such as hacking.
“If a foreign government offers to help us win an election, we should report that offer, not exploit it,” Malinowski said.