Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says it would be ‘foolish’ for a candidate not to look at foreign intel against an opponent

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is shown in the April 21, 2018, file photo at the Utah Republican Convention after winning the nomination for re-election to the 2nd Congressional District seat.

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that it would be “foolish” not to take information from a foreign government pertaining to an election campaign.

While Stewart said he wouldn’t have said it the way President Donald Trump did to ABC News — the president said he would take intel from a foreign government and maybe not alert the FBI — there’s good reason to look at the information they may be offering.

“It depends on who it is and the circumstances and how credible it is,” Stewart told CNN's Jim Scuitto. “There might be valuable information that comes from one of our allies. If they look at it, and it’s credible, I think it would be foolish not to take that information.”

Stewart specifically mentioned that the intel could come from one of the United States’ allies, like the United Kingdom or Australia, two countries that are part of an intelligence-sharing agreement called the Five Eyes.

“They may have information that is valuable,” Stewart said.

The U.S. intelligence community has warned of likely interference in the 2020 elections by Russia, China and other governments after multiple agencies concluded that Russia had meddled in the last presidential election.

The United Kingdom and Australia were not mentioned in warnings of foreign interference.

The Utah congressman, who has been an unwavering Trump defender during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and that of the House Intelligence Committee, said one would have to look at the “circumstances and how credible” the information is before deciding to contact the FBI.

“I just think you have to say it depends,” Stewart said. “Because it truly does depend.”

It’s against federal law for a campaign or candidate to accept donations or anything of value from a foreign person or entity, a point underscored in a statement by Federal Elections Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub.

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” she wrote. “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."

FBI Director Chris Wray has said that any campaign offered dirt by a foreign entity should relay that to the FBI.

Trump, though, said Wray was “wrong,” and that he may contact the FBI if he's offered foreign intel if there was “something wrong” with it.

“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.”

While opposition research is a routine effort in a political campaign, that information usually comes in the form of a candidate's past speeches, actions, writings and votes.

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said Thursday that he disagreed with Trump’s remarks and called it wrongheaded.

“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 Politico. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”

In his CNN interview, Stewart tried to pivot to a conservative talking point about the Democratic National Committee and 2016 Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, paying for oppo research of Trump that ended up in a dossier created by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, who relied on some Russian sources.

“Do you see the irony of those who are criticizing the president for something he said. And not criticizing Hillary Clinton and the Democrats for something they actually did,” Stewart said.

Fusion GPS, a political consulting firm that was paid by the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, contracted Steele to write a report on Trump’s dealings with Russia. That report was shared with federal authorities.

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