During an interview with George Stephanopoulos, a preview of which ABC released Wednesday night, President Trump confirmed that what the Mueller report made clear about his campaign’s relationship with Russia in 2016 — that it was offered, and willingly accepted, help from the foreign adversary — is not only liable to happen again in 2020, it’s almost a certainty.
The clip began with Trump claiming that his son, Donald Trump, Jr., shouldn’t have gone to the FBI when he got an email promising dirt on Hillary Clinton supplied by Russia. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my life,” Trump said. “I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. You don’t call the FBI.”
When Stephanopoulos tells Trump that the FBI director said Trump, Jr., should have contacted authorities, Trump said the leader of the nation’s top law enforcement agency is mistaken. “The FBI director is wrong,” he said.
The president then explained what most have assumed will be the case in 2020: that if Russia were to offer his campaign damaging information on his opponent again, he would once again have no problem accepting it. “There’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump said before laying out a hypothetical situation involving Norway, his innocuous foreign nation of choice. “If somebody called from a country — Norway — we have information on your opponent. Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.”
EXCLUSIVE: Pres. Trump tells @GStephanopoulos he wouldn't necessarily alert the FBI if approached by foreign figures with information on his 2020 opponent: "It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it." https://t.co/yWRxMOaFqW pic.twitter.com/qwLw53s5yc
— ABC News (@ABC) June 12, 2019
Trump responded to the backlash to his comments Thursday morning.
“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day,” he wrote. “I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Whales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’ Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again. With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters.”
…..call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again. With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2019
Contrary to the president’s tweet, most seem to believe that the president explicitly saying he would not contact authorities if a foreign adversary offered his campaign dirt on his 2020 opponent is the part that “matters.” Just ask Robert Anderson, the former FBI official who Republicans called in as a witness to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday regarding the Mueller investigation.
“Yes,” Anderson said when asked whether someone from Trump’s campaign should have called the FBI. “There’s not a question, and my colleagues here who have worked counterintelligence will tell you — we always want information, any information that would be helpful to us in apprising the likely intentions of potentially hostile powers are.”
Ironically, Trump claimed just hours before ABC released the clip of his interview with Stephanopoulos that not only did the Mueller report state that his campaign did not collude with Russia prior to the 2016 election, it stated that it “rebuffed” efforts from Russia to interfere in the election. “It said no collusion and no obstruction and no nothing,” the president told reporters in the White House. “In fact, it actually said we rebuffed your friends from Russia. That we actually pushed them back. That we rebuffed them.”
Trump: Mueller Report says we "rebuffed" overtures from Russia. pic.twitter.com/vkkXHbTZT5
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 12, 2019
This is demonstrably false. The Mueller report made abundantly clear that the Trump campaign welcomed help from Russia. The president’s comments to Stephanopoulos that ABC released last night effectively confirmed this, as well. So did Trump legal counsel Rudy Giuliani when he told CNN in April that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” The campaign got away with it. He wasn’t charged by Mueller, who has said he was upholding Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and Attorney General William Barr has gone to great lengths to shield him from any other retribution. There’s nothing to suggest Trump would have any misgivings about accepting Russian interference again in 2020, but the fact that he said this out loud is one of the biggest of the many middle fingers he’s extended toward Congress, the Constitution and the principles of the nation he governs.
Democrats, as they tend to be, were outraged. “Disgraceful yet sadly par for the course for this president,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “When the president talks like this, it’s no wonder @SenateMajLdr McConnell is blocking bipartisan efforts to secure our elections from foreign interference.”
“It is shocking to hear the President say outright that he is willing to put himself in debt to a foreign power… not to mention the foreign interference in an American election part,” wrote House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), whose committee would be responsible for beginning impeachment proceedings against the president. Nadler has reportedly attempted to convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to endorse impeachment on several occasions, only to be, as Trump might put it, rebuffed.
Pelosi also weighed in following the release of Trump’s comments Wednesday night. “The Russians attacked our elections, and @realDonaldTrump is giving them the green light to do it again,” she wrote. “We can’t stand by and just hope for the best. The Senate must join the House in passing #HR1 to #ProtectOurDemocracy!”
The Russians attacked our elections, and @realDonaldTrump is giving them the green light to do it again. We can’t stand by and just hope for the best. The Senate must join the House in passing #HR1 to #ProtectOurDemocracy! https://t.co/l7UTcFVlDd
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) June 13, 2019
But “standing by and hoping for the best” is what many have accused Pelosi of doing as she refuses to endorse beginning impeaching proceedings, the calls for which have once again been reignited by Trump’s comments about accepting foreign interference in 2020. Even from Republicans.
“What the president said behind the resolute desk is, in and of itself, an impeachable moment,” former Republican Rep. David Jolly told Brian Williams on Wednesday. “This was not the president of the president of the United States being cavalier. This was Donald Trump suggesting he would be willing to engage in the commission of a crime to benefit his own reelection, and that he would entertain collusion, if you will, support from even an adversary for his own benefit and in an adverse interest to our democracy. The eyes of the nation tonight must look to Nancy Pelosi.”
The president believes he is above the law, and not subject to congressional oversight, or, as he made clear to Stephanopoulos, to the determinations of the FBI. As Jolly noted Wednesday night, democracy is at stake. Trump is a clear and present danger, and it is become more apparent with each passing day that feeble calls for the Republican-controlled Senate to pass House resolutions to protect election integrity or whatever else is not going to be enough. The game has changed, and no legislation is going to prevent the president from doing all he can, legal or illegal, to win in 2020.
On July 27th, 2016, Trump famously said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” That same day, Russia began attempting to hack the emails of member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. On Wednesday, Trump essentially put out the same call. If Russia, Saudi Arabia or any other foreign nation wants to dig up dirt on any of his prospective Democratic opponents, the president is listening.