By Miriam Raftery
Photos: President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin
June 14, 2019 (Washington D.C.) – President Donald Trump has sent shockwaves through the nation’s capital after he told ABC news that if a foreign government offered him dirt on a political opponent in the 2020 election, “I think I’d want to hear it…I think I’d take it.”
But a top federal elections regulator, several Republican Senators and Democratic presidential candidates have all issued statements sharply critical of the President’s remarks – and made clear that accepting any such help from a foreign power is a crime.
Trump later added, “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI.” Trump also said he believes FBI director Christopher Wray was “wrong” when he testified to Congress that campaign workers should always report offers of help from foreign entities to the FBI.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) Chair Ellen L. Weintraub today issued this statement on illegal contributions from foreign governments: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. 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 adds that this is not a novel concept. “Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation,” the FEC Chair notes. “Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about `foreign Interference, Intrigue and Influence.’ They knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s.”
She states pointedly, “Anyone who solicits or accepts foreign assistance risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation,” adding that any such offer to a campaign should be reported to the FBI.”
Trump’s remark came shortly after Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, said he wasn’t sure if he would report an offer of foreign help to the FBI. Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, has met with Ukranian officials recently for information on former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s potential opponent in 2020, regarding Biden’s son’s ties to a Ukranian gas company. Giuliani has insisted this is not illegal, the Washington Post reports.
But even many top Republicans and Trump allies admit that such actions do violate federal law. Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch Trump supporter, says he told the President, “The law is pretty clear. You can’t take anything of value from a foreign government,” Politico reports. Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican Presidential nominee, stated bluntly, “Accepting the work product of a foreign government or the effort of a foreign government to try and influence an election of one candidate or another? It simply strikes at the heart of our democracy. It’s wrong.”
Colorado Senator Cory Gardner made clear that any foreign information offered on a candidate’s opponent “should be turned over to the FBI, pure and simple.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine similarly states that the appropriate response “if the president or any other federal presidential candidates is approached” by a hostile government is to “call the FBI.”
Only Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who has himself taken massive campaign contributions from Russians, took a different view, blaming Democrats whom he says “are trying to keep the 2016 election alive and the investigation alive when the American people have heard enough.”
During his 2016 campaign, Trump infamously quipped “Russia, are you listening?” and suggested Russia should hack Hilary Clinton’s emails. In fact, they did. A Russian lawyer later met with top Trump campaign aides and the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., promising to dish up damaging information on Clinton.
Robert Mueller, special prosecutor, stated in his report after analyzing that meeting that a foreign entity providing free opposition research to a campaign could exert “a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate.”
Larry Noble, former general counsel for the FEC, has made clear, “A contribution is anything of value. Opposition research is clearly something of value. If a campaign tells a foreign government it would accept opposition research they’ve gathered, it is soliciting a foreign contribution, which is illegal. If the campaign accepts the opposition research, it is accepting a prohibited foreign contribution.”
Numerous Democratic presidential contenders also blasted Trump’s statements.
Biden posted on Twitter, “President Trump is once again welcoming foreign interference in our elections. This isn’t about politics. It is a threat to our national security. An American President should not seek their aid and abet those who seek to undermine democracy.”
California Senator Kamala Harris tweeted, “China is listening. Russia is listening. North Korea is listening. Let’s speak the truth: this president is a national security threat.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said on CNN, ““We have a president that neither understands the Constitution of the United States or respects the Constitution,” Sanders said, describing Trump as “somebody who does not believe in the separation of powers and somebody who thinks he’s above the law.”