With the Russia investigation now behind him—sort of—and 2020 looming, President Donald Trump is finally willing to say aloud what he’s clearly been thinking: there was nothing wrong with talking to the Russians in 2016, and he’d totally do it again if given the chance. Asked in an interview with ABC News what he would do if foreign officials contacted his campaign again with dirt on a 2020 opponent, Trump told George Stephanopoulos, “I think I'd want to hear it.”
“I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening,” the president continues in the interview, an excerpt of which aired Wednesday evening. “If somebody called from a country—Norway—we have information on your opponent. Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Trump added that he probably wouldn’t bother to tell the F.B.I. about it, either. “I’ve seen a lot of things over my life, I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the F.B.I.,” Trump said when Stephanopoulos asked if Donald Trump Jr. should have told the F.B.I. about the contact that led to his Trump Tower meeting. “You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you have to do.” When Stephanopoulos pointed out that former presidential candidate John Kerry told the F.B.I. when he received a stolen briefing book, Trump insisted, “Well that’s different.” “This is somebody that said, ‘We have information on your opponent,’” Trump said. “Oh let me call the F.B.I. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.” (The president did admit that, “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the F.B.I.”)
Stephanopoulos continued to push back, pointing out that F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray wants government officials to tell the agency about any foreign contacts. (“My view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that is something the F.B.I. would want to know about,” Wray told Congress in May.) To which Trump had a simple reply: “The F.B.I. director is wrong.”
Trump claimed that accepting foreign intel wouldn't be an issue, since it would just be considered “oppo research” that all campaigns eagerly accept. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the F.B.I,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right. . . . Oh, let’s call the F.B.I. The F.B.I. doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.” Despite Trump's insistence, foreign information can potentially be legally dubious, as opposition research can be classified as a “thing of value,” which foreign nationals are barred from contributing to a campaign. “Foreign nationals are prohibited from giving a contribution to a campaign; in the form of money, or in the form of an “in-kind contribution” like services or information,” the Campaign Legal Center said in a 2017 blog post fact-checking the Trump administration. Campaigns currently aren't legally required to report foreign communications to the F.B.I., although legislation has been introduced in Congress that would mandate it.
The president's admission that he welcomes foreign intervention doesn't exactly come as a shock, given how often, per the Mueller report, members of his team allegedly talked to Russians seemingly with hope of a political reward. More recently, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani canceled a planned trip to Ukraine to urge an investigation into Joe Biden's son, after critics pointed out that it sure looked like he was trying to get a foreign government to interfere in the election. (Giuliani said he would've told the Ukrainian government to investigate Hunter Biden “because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”) But the comments are sure to be a thorn in the side of the F.B.I., who are already ramping up their efforts to thwart expected foreign interference in the 2020 election. “Make no mistake: The threat just keeps escalating and we’re going to have to up our game to stay ahead of it,” Wray told Congress in May. Apparently they won't be getting any help from the man in the Oval Office.
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