On Wednesday night, ABC released a clip of President Trump telling George Stephanopolous that he doesn’t feel he needs to contact the FBI if a foreign government offered him dirt on his 2020 opponent, and that he would be willing to court to any such offers. “If somebody called from a country [and said] we have information on your opponent. Oh. I think I’d want to hear it,” the president said.
As Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub pointed out on Twitter, this is illegal. It’s pretty simple. There is no gray area. “I would not have thought that I needed to say this,” she wrote, attaching a statement clarifying that “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.”
“This is not a novel concept,” she added. “Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginning of our nation.”
I would not have thought that I needed to say this. pic.twitter.com/T743CsXq79
— Ellen L Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) June 13, 2019
But as has been made abundantly clear over the past two-plus years, the president hold his own inclinations on a higher plane than federal law. This, sadly, has meant that Republican lawmakers, too, consider the whims of this real estate con artist and reality TV star to be more legitimate than anything outlined in the Constitution. They’ve made this position clear repeatedly, and did so again in the wake of Trump’s contention that the FBI director is wrong, and that he can accept foreign election assistance if he pleases. The comments were so egregious that most Republican refrained from commenting, but there were still those who looking to curry favor with Trump.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Thursday bumbled through a nonsensical deflection of the president’s comments. “I’ve watched this president stand up against these foreign entities and he would not allow any foreign country to interfere in our elections,” he said in response to Trump’s admission that he would gladly allow a foreign country to interfere in our elections.
Asked about Trump's comment that he might not report offers of election help from a foreign country, Rep. Kevin McCarthy said, "I've watched this president stand up against these foreign entities and he would not allow any foreign country to interfere in our elections." pic.twitter.com/U89rNZk3P0
— POLITICO (@politico) June 13, 2019
But the overwhelming response from Trump’s top Republican lackeys has been to, what else, point the finger at Hillary Clinton. “Talk about taking foreign help. Hillary Clinton hired a foreign spy,” tweeted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “He talked to Russians and put together an oppo research document. It wasn’t verified, but the FBI used it to spy on the Trump campaign.”
Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz made the same argument on Fox News in a clip that, as of Friday morning, Trump has pinned to the top of his Twitter page. “Remember, [what the president is suggesting] is markedly different than what Hillary Clinton did by proactively spending millions of dollars overseas to engage somebody, a foreign national, to dig up dirt on her opponent,” he said.
Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC) agreed. “[Hillary Clinton] should have probably contacted the FBI,” he told reporters. “I think the president would, too.” Tillis added on Fox News that he was comfortable leaving it “up to the president to use good judgment” before once again belaboring the argument that Clinton also accepted foreign help. “I also think that up here on Capitol Hill are not talking about GPS Fusion working on behalf of the Clinton campaign, paying a former foreign agent to get information from foreign governments to use against President Trump.”
As many have pointed out, there is nothing illegal about contracting a foreign national to conduct opposition research.
This is a bizarre line of argument. British citizen Christopher Steele was hired by an American firm which had been hired by Democrats. That was just as legal as the Trump campaign hiring British firm Cambridge Analytica. The issue is foreign contributions, not foreign vendors. https://t.co/rb4bt3MtMG
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) June 13, 2019
Even scarier than the comments Republicans have made defending Trump’s willingness to accept foreign dirt on his 2020 opponent is what they’ve done in Congress to ensure he’s able to. After the clip of Trump’s interview with Stephanopolous was released Wednesday night, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his refusal to take up legislation aimed at protecting American elections. “When the president talks like this, it’s no wonder @SenateMajLdr McConnell is blocking bipartisan efforts to secure our elections from foreign interference,” he wrote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) did the same the following morning. “We can’t stand by and just hope for the best,” she wrote. “The Senate must join the House in passing #HR1 to #ProtectOurDemocracy!”
H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act, is one of several bills relating to electing integrity, many of them co-sponsored by Republicans, that have stalled because McConnell has refused to take them up for a vote in the Senate. Also stuck in the mud is Sen. Mark Warner’s Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections (FIRE) Act, a simple piece of legislation that would require presidential campaigns to notify the Federal Election Commission if a foreign government offers assistance. On Thursday, Warner tried to pass the bill with unanimous consent. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected.
A new low.@MarkWarner tried to pass the FIRE Act to require presidential campaigns to report interference to the FBI.
But Senator @MarshaBlackburn (R-TN) objected.
It is truly outrageous that this bill, which should bring all of us together, is being blocked by Republicans. pic.twitter.com/1efsLINqFf
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 13, 2019
As Schumer said later, Blackburn’s objection is tantamount to an invitation to foreign governments to interfere in American elections. “Shame, shame,” he said. “It is truly outrageous that this unanimous consent request, which should bring all of us together, is being blocked by our Republican friends.”