June 17, 2019

Trump on Foreign Intelligence

On Sunday, ABC News aired a previously recorded interview with President Donald Trump which included the following exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, I don’t, 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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It’s not an interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, that they come up with oppo research. Oh, let’s call the FBI. The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

ABC News

Last Friday, Trump clarified his remarks, stating “Of course, you have to look at it… But of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that. You couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that accepting information from a foreign government would be criminal and harmful to American democracy.

“Mueller opted not to charge Trump Jr. for accepting a meeting in which he expected to receive opposition research on Clinton and the Democrats from a Russian lawyer in 2016. But it was not because there was nothing potentially wrong with this; it was because Mueller decided it was unlikely that it could be proven Trump Jr. knew that it was illegal and/or that the information was something ‘of value’... [but] even if Trump Jr. was ignorant of the law, that defense doesn’t really fly with his father today — not after a two-year investigation probing exactly that issue.”
Aaron Blake, Washington Post

“When [White House senior advisor Jared] Kushner was asked whether he would call the FBI if he received an email offering the Trump campaign help from the Russian government, he refused to answer, saying it was a hypothetical question. Besides, he added, he never received the information he was promised the last time that offer was made. This is like asking someone who stole silverware from your house whether he would steal from you again and him responding it was a hypothetical question and, besides, the silverware he stole the first time turned out to be worthless. It's unlikely you would invite him over again. However, Donald Trump is running for re-election in 2020.”
Larry Noble, CNN

Regarding Christopher Steele, a foreign national hired by the Clinton campaign in 2016, “‘You can pay a foreign national to provide you with services, so a campaign, for instance, could have a campaign attorney who is a Canadian citizen’… If this kind of seems like a loophole, experts pointed out that it would be really hard to run a campaign otherwise. It would mean having to worry if the campaign signs you printed came from a foreign company, or if the catering firm you hired had foreign workers. If a campaign is paying someone for work or services, they’re being compensated. But where that doesn’t happen, and a campaign is accepting a contribution — or ‘thing of value’ — from a foreign government, the question then is what’s in it for them?
Jen Kirby, Vox

“Foreign dirt wouldn’t come from Norway or other stable democratic allies like Ireland, France, and England. It would come from corrupt authoritarian regimes that want to manipulate American democracy for their own ends. In 2016, the Russian government favored Trump because he appeared open to relieving U.S. sanctions on the country. What if Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies try to repay Trump’s support as president by meddling in 2020?... What if Chinese leaders try to push the election in his opponents’ favor, in hopes of ending the trade war?… Thanks to Trump’s actions, Americans risk inheriting a democracy where elections are playgrounds for foreign powers rather than an expression of citizens’ wishes.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

Here is what a presidential president might have said: If there is one thing the past three years have shown, the only good answer to a foreign country offering dirt on your political opponent is to decline and immediately report the offer to the FBI. Our country is still enduring the fallout from Russian interference in 2016. It has cast a pall on my presidency and led to the indictment of former senior government and campaign officials. The last thing any president should do is encourage foreign meddling in our next presidential election…

“It is important for me to be clear on this, because it is not only a question of me or my campaign potentially breaking the law. It is also a matter of principle. Our political differences matter less than our commitment to one another as citizens loyal to the same constitutional order and committed to defending it in a world in which other states, friendly or unfriendly, pursue their own national interests. As president, I will defend this principle from the same erosion of other norms we have seen as our politics have gotten sharper.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

From the Right

The right argues that the FBI should be notified, but accuses Democrats of double standards regarding foreign contributions to elections.

The right argues that the FBI should be notified, but accuses Democrats of double standards regarding foreign contributions to elections.

“The good thing you can say for President Trump in this interaction is… that President Trump is the most honest president that we've ever had. He is. Call him honest Donald. You have Honest Abe and now you can have honest Donald. Why is he the most honest president? Because President Trump brags about doing all the bad things and thinking all the bad things that all the other presidents have also done but they've hidden. He's open about it. He's honest about it…  

“However, what this also means is then we need to articulate that it's bad. You don't want to incentivize foreign governments to spy on American citizensYou don't want it to seem like the President of the United States is encouraging you to do that or offering you something in return. That's not a good idea. It's refreshing to hear a guy speak honestly but then it's incumbent on all the rest of us to say right that's true and that is honest, but we shouldn't do that.”
Michael Knowles, Daily Wire

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted, “I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign – either directly or indirectly – to inform the FBI and reject the offer… the outrage some of my Democratic colleagues are raising about President Trump’s comments will hopefully be met with equal outrage that their own party hired a foreign national to do opposition research on President Trump’s campaign and that information, unverified, was apparently used by the FBI to obtain a warrant against an American citizen.”
Lindsey Graham, Twitter

“You see, it’s perfectly fine to pay a foreign spy to use Russian government sources (including FSB agents) to put together opposition research on Trump. It’s also completely acceptable for the DNC to seek out help from Ukraine to come up with dirt on Paul Manafort in order to hurt Trump. But Trump answers a hypothetical honestly instead of choosing to lie like every other politician and it’s time to clutch the pearls…

“There’s no moral, nor legal imperative that if a German (for example) offers documented wrongdoing by your opponent, you must immediately turn it over to the FBI and not use it. We live in a global society. Negative information about political candidates comes from all corners and travels far and wide via the internet. This is especially true given how internationally connected and active many Presidential candidates are. If someone does something untoward in a foreign country, it’s logical that a foreign source would be the one to find out.”
Bonchie, RedState

“If Russia is calling to give the president information about a political opponent, odds are it is making mischief. But what if the call relaying such information comes from, say, Canada? While it is possible that this could be nefarious, it is more likely that, like a good neighbor, Canada would be trying to warn the president about some peril to American interests…

“In the 2016 election, Estonia did call President Obama’s administration to provide opposition research — specifically, to convey unverified intelligence that Russia might be channeling money into the Trump campaign. The Brits provided information too. So did the Aussies. So, according to former CIA director John Brennan, did a number of European governments. To be sure, these countries are our allies. But that hardly means they were concerned only for our well-being. Like Brennan, they had their own anti-Trump agendas. The foreign-affairs component of Trump’s populist platform seemed to be: better relations with Putin, NATO bashing, skepticism about American interventions and military commitments, and halting the U.S. taxpayer-funded gravy train for European security. Europeans did not like this, not one little bit.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

A libertarian's take

“The relevant question is not the nationality of a source offering ‘oppo research’ but the accuracy and relevance of the information. Another consideration is whether the information was obtained illegally—by hacking emails, for example. While the Supreme Court has said people have a First Amendment right to share illegally obtained information if they were not involved in the lawbreaking (something that news organizations frequently do), you might reasonably argue that they should also report such crimes when they become aware of them, which may be what Trump had in mind when he said he might contact the FBI ‘if I thought there was something wrong.’”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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