Trump again claims he’d mull for­eign help for his cam­paign

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION - By Caroline S. En­gel­mayer and Chris Mege­rian

WASH­ING­TON — Seek­ing to stem a bi­par­ti­san furor, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Fri­day that he would “of course” con­tact the FBI if a for­eign gov­ern­ment gave him dirt on his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents — but not un­til af­ter he looked at it first.

“If you don’t hear what it is, you’re not go­ing to know what it is,” Trump told Fox News. “I mean, how can you re­port some­thing that you don’t know?”

Trump’s re­vised stance did lit­tle to as­suage crit­ics who warned the pres­i­dent is set­ting the coun­try up for a re­peat of the for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion that led to a lengthy spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mul­ti­ple con­gres­sional in­quiries and wide­spread con­cerns about the in­tegrity of U.S. elec­tions.

Spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III con­cluded that Krem­lin-backed op­er­a­tives in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion in a “sweep­ing and sys­tem­atic” ef­fort that was ul­ti­mately aimed at ben­e­fit­ing Trump. In ad­di­tion to ex­ten­sive con­tacts with se­nior Trump aides, Rus­sians re­leased stolen Demo­cratic Party emails and spread di­vi­sive dis­in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia.

Trump’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept for­eign help in the 2020 race drew a cho­rus of crit­i­cism by elected of­fi­cials, le­gal schol­ars and his­to­ri­ans, who ar­gued that Trump was un­der­min­ing long-es­tab­lished norms of U.S. pol­i­tics and in dan­ger of vi­o­lat­ing fed­eral law.

“It’s cer­tainly clear, even af­ter the tur­moil of the last two years, the pres­i­dent hasn’t learned any­thing, or if he’s learned some­thing, he’s learned the ex­act wrong les­son,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and the chair of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. “He’s learned that he can ac­cept for­eign help and still es­cape the law.”

The con­tro­versy be­gan Wed­nes­day af­ter Trump told ABC News that he might not tell the FBI if a for­eign gov­ern­ment of­fered his cam­paign deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion on a ri­val.

“It’s not an in­ter­fer­ence (if) they have in­for­ma­tion,” he said. “I think I’d take it. If I thought there was some­thing wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI.”

That set off alarms all day Thurs­day on Capi­tol Hill, with Democrats ex­press­ing out­rage and Re­pub­li­cans dis­tanc­ing them­selves from the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion. Fed­eral law ex­pressly pro­hibits for­eign­ers from mak­ing gifts to U.S. po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

Al­though he re­fused to ad­mit fault, he ini­tially said his re­marks were mis­char­ac­ter­ized, a gam­bit that fell through when ABC re­leased the full tran­script of what he said.

On Fri­day, he sought to amend his com­ments dur­ing a phone-in in­ter­view on “Fox & Friends,” the pres­i­dent’s fa­vorite morn­ing show and a re­li­able des­ti­na­tion for soft­ball in­ter­views.

Trump said he doesn’t “think any­body would present me with any­thing bad be­cause they know how much I love this coun­try.” But he added that if they did, he’d hear them out.

“If I don’t lis­ten, you’re not gonna know,” Trump said. “Now, if I thought any­thing was in­cor­rect or badly stated, I’d re­port it to the At­tor­ney Gen­eral, the FBI. I’d re­port it to law en­force­ment, ab­so­lutely.”

The caveat didn’t con­vince his many crit­ics.

Max Bergmann, who di­rects the Moscow Project at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, a Wash­ing­ton think tank, said Trump viewed his cam­paign’s con­tacts with Rus­sia in 2016 as ap­pro­pri­ate and saw no rea­son to change.

In Trump’s view, “If they didn’t get me then, then what I do in 2020 is go­ing to be no dif­fer­ent,” Bergmann said.

In his ABC in­ter­view, Trump di­rectly con­tra­dicted FBI direc­tor Christo­pher Wray, who tes­ti­fied to Congress last month that cam­paigns should im­me­di­ately re­port con­tacts with for­eign­ers who want to in­flu­ence an elec­tion. Wray, Trump said, “is wrong.”

Wray has not publicly re­sponded, but former FBI of­fi­cials de­scribed the pres­i­dent’s put-down of the direc­tor — and his twice-de­clared will­ing­ness to con­sider for­eign help for his cam­paign — as trou­bling.

“If Pres­i­dent Trump is will­ing to en­ter­tain a con­ver­sa­tion, for­eign in­tel ser­vices love that,” said Stephanie Dou­glas, a former ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant direc­tor of the FBI na­tional se­cu­rity branch. “It just makes him more vul­ner­a­ble, and it makes the job of the FBI much harder.”

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