Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday that it would be “wrong” and “antithetical to our democratic principles” for a presidential candidate to take information from a foreign country trying to interfere with an American election.
President Donald Trump said he might do just that if offered in the 2020 cycle and that maybe he'd contact the FBI if he thought there was “something wrong” with doing so.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “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.”
Political campaigns routinely compile “opposition research," information they think will politically damage their opponents, though that material generally comes from American sources, usually past statements, news articles and votes.
Romney, a Utah Republican, told Politico it was wrongheaded for Trump to suggest he’d be fine with information coming from a foreign nation that aims to upend the election.
“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,” Romney told the news outlet. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”
U.S. intelligence agencies and the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential race showed it did so with the goal of hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton and propping up Trump. Investigators specifically looked at a meeting held by Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign officials that was set up by a Russian contact promising “dirt” on Clinton.
Trump has denied any collusion with Russia, though he had at times in the campaign publicly invited the country to find Clinton’s missing emails from when she served as secretary of state.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report notes that because of long-standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted, the probe did not look at whether the president committed a crime. The report, though, shows multiple attempts by Trump to halt the special counsel investigation and states clearly that the probe did not exonerate the president.
Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat, tweeted that he agreed with leaders of both parties who have distanced themselves from Trump's remarks.
“Our President should never accept help from a foreign power to win an election and any meddling must be reported to law enforcement," McAdams said. “Americans, and only Americans, should choose our leaders. To do otherwise is unethical and illegal.”
Trump’s doubling down on how he’d look at foreign dirt on opponents didn’t sit well with Republicans or Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Americans should be “appalled.”
“The president gave us evidence once again he does not know right from wrong,” said the California Democrat. “It’s a very sad thing.”
FBI Director Chris Wray recently said any candidate or campaign approached by a foreign entity with intelligence about an election should call authorities.
Trump in the ABC News interview said Wray was “wrong.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has been a staunch defender of the president, said Wray had it right.
“Foreign influence in our elections is growing, not lessening and we don’t want to send the signal to encourage it,” Graham told reporters, adding that he thought Trump’s remarks were “a mistake.”
Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart is a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has consistently said neither Trump nor his team colluded with Russia’s 2016 actions and blamed Democrats for prompting the whole special counsel probe.
Stewart, echoing some conservative rhetoric, charges that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign were paying a foreign agent, ex-British spy Christopher Steele, to research Trump’s ties to Moscow and that was what led to an FBI probe of Trump’s campaign. That point has been disputed, and Mueller did not cite the so-called Steele dossier in his report.
“I’ve criticized Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee for two years for doing exactly that,” Stewart said of accepting foreign help. “It would be fairly inconsistent of me not to say the president shouldn’t do it either.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, took issue with Trump’s assertion during the ABC News interview that members of Congress he’s talked to take foreign intelligence.
“They all do it,” Trump said. “They always have, and that’s the way it is."
Curtis, a relative newbie to Congress, said that's not how he would respond.
“If I were ever offered information or research from a foreign entity," Curtis said, “I would immediately contact the FBI.”