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Trump says 'there's nothing wrong with listening' to foreign dirt on 2020 rivals

U.S. President Donald Trump's assertion he would be open to accepting a foreign power's help in his 2020 campaign ricocheted through Washington, with Democrats condemning it as a call for further election interference and Republicans struggling to defend his comments.

U.S. president says he would have no obligation to call in the FBI

U.S. President Donald Trump's comments to ABC News came just a month after he pledged not to use information stolen by foreign adversaries in his 2020 re-election campaign. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump's assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power's help in his 2020 campaign ricocheted through Washington on Thursday, with Democrats condemning it as a call for further election interference and Republicans struggling to defend his comments.

Trump seemed to dismiss the threat posed by Russia's interference in the 2016 election, one that led to sweeping indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, and his incendiary remarks come as congressional investigations into the meddling have quickened.

Asked by ABC News on Wednesday what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said: "I think I'd want to hear it." He said he would have no obligation to call the FBI. "There's nothing wrong with listening."

But on Thursday, Trump followed up the interview by tweeting that his "full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters.

"I meet and talk to 'foreign governments' every day ... should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?"

Watch Trump discuss 'oppo research' and going to the FBI:

The role of Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in organizing a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer offering negative information on Hillary Clinton was a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian meddling in the last presidential campaign.

Mueller painstakingly documented Russian efforts to boost Trump's campaign and undermine that of his Democratic rival. But while Mueller's investigation didn't establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump's campaign, Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks in 2016 and celebrated information exposed by Russian hackers.

The Democratic denunciations were swift and overwhelming.

In addition to the former vice-president's comments, several of Trump's other Democratic opponents in the 2020 race — including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand, and former representative Beto O'Rourke — repeated their calls to begin impeachment hearings in the wake of the president's latest remarks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it is a "sad thing" Trump "doesn't know his right from wrong."

"It's an invasion of our democracy," she said. "Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said."

The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner, said Thursday, "This man has so little moral compass that he doesn't understand that taking help from any foreign government during a political campaign is an assault on our democracy."

'There's nothing wrong with listening'

Trump's comments came just a month after he pledged not to use information stolen by foreign adversaries in his 2020 reelection campaign, even as he wrongly insisted he hadn't used such information to his benefit in 2016.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters in the Oval Office in May, Trump said he "would certainly agree to" that commitment.

"I don't need it," he said as he met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. "All I need is the opponents that I'm looking at."

Trump also insisted erroneously that he "never did use, as you probably know," such information, adding: "That's what the Mueller report was all about. They said no collusion."

FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Donald Trump Jr. should have called his agency to report the offer.

But Trump, who nominated Wray to the role in 2017, told ABC News that he disagrees. "The FBI director is wrong." The president added, "Life doesn't work like that."

Asked whether his advisers should accept information on an opponent from Russia, China or another nation or call the FBI this time, Trump said, "I think maybe you do both," expressing openness to reviewing the information.

"I think you might want to listen," he said. "There's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called, from a country — Norway — we have information on your opponent. Oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

Republicans struggle with comments

Congressional Republicans, usually loath to criticize Trump, struggled to strike a balance between condemning foreign interference and avoiding harsh words about the president:

"If a foreign agent or a cutout for a foreign agent approaches any American politician, they should report that to the FBI," said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch Trump ally, said, "I think it's a mistake of law. I don't want to send a signal to encourage this."

But he likened Trump's stance to Democratic support for a research firm run by British ex-spy Christopher Steele that explored Trump's ties to Russia in the last campaign. (Britain, unlike Russia, is a U.S. ally.)

The Republican party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, now a senator from Utah, said his campaign would have immediately notified the authorities if offered foreign help.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch was at a loss for words in the matter: "I do not want to do any interviews on that subject."

 

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