In an extraordinary interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, President Trump said that he would be open to listening to a foreign country’s opposition research against his 2020 rival, suggested that all congressmen have done the same and said FBI Director Christopher Wray was “wrong” in saying that a candidate should report such interference to the FBI.
"I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” He denied that this was interference at all. "It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”
He does not seem to appreciate that conducting and spreading opposition research and seeking to help one candidate are exactly how Russia and other bad actors interfere with Western democracies. He seems entirely unaware of the campaign finance law that prohibits one from soliciting something of value from a foreign national. Worst of all, he seems oblivious to the betrayal of American democracy that he is advocating.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III explained the relevant statute in his report: “Foreign nationals may not make — and no one may ‘solicit, accept, or receive’ from them — 'a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value’ or ‘an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election.’ 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a)(1)(A), (a)(2)." He wrote, “Several areas of the Office’s investigation involved efforts or offers by foreign nationals to provide negative information about candidate [Hillary] Clinton to the Trump Campaign or to distribute that information to the public, to the anticipated benefit of the Campaign.” Mueller ultimately declined to prosecute because Trump’s ignorance of the law made proving intent difficult and because it wasn’t clear that what Russia was offering was “something of value" (“no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance law”). Here, however, Trump declares his intent to repeat his conduct and brazenly opens the door to foreign interference, which he implicitly acknowledges would be of value to him.
Aside from declaring his intent to repeat the very same conduct that gave Russia a green light to interfere in 2016, Trump reveals he is totally at a loss to comprehend his role is to defend American democracy from foreign meddling. Someone so lacking in loyalty to the Constitution and respect for our national security cannot perform his duties as commander in chief. And even worse, discouraging cooperation with the FBI directly violates his oath as chief of the executive branch that is charged with enforcing our laws.
As presidential candidate Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) put it: “He is the commander in chief and has a duty and responsibility to the American people to be a defender, if not the greatest defender, of our democracy. And quite the contrary, what we hear tonight is that he is yet again open to the idea of working with foreign governments to undermine the integrity of our election system. It is outrageous. And it tells me the guy just doesn’t understand the job and doesn’t do it very well.”
Trump has now publicly encouraged foreign governments to interfere with our democracy and advised that his team wouldn’t necessarily report the meddling to the FBI. He is quite simply a willing mark in any influence-peddling operation or counterintelligence operation from a foreign government. Quite apart from any illegality, this is a monstrously immoral view. Trump is willing to betray his country to win reelection to the presidency.
We don’t know whether this will affect Democrats’ calculus on impeachment, but that’s the wrong inquiry to be making. Rather, we should be demanding to know why there is not a single Republican other than Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) who is willing to denounce such conduct, read the Mueller report’s findings on obstruction and seek to protect our democracy by removing a menace to our national security. Republicans have so debased themselves and disregarded their oaths of office that they disqualify themselves from holding any position of power. Trump is perhaps incapable of even recognizing that his behavior is malicious and anti-constitutional, but his Republican lackeys in Congress and in the right-wing media have no excuse. They know that he is shredding the Constitution and endangering our security and yet choose to back him anyway.
There should be no doubt that Trump committed and continues to commit impeachable acts. The only question is whether impeaching him and seeing the Senate decline to remove him would pose a greater danger to the country (e.g. emboldening him and helping him win reelection) than not seeking impeachment. What is certain is that no patriotic American in good faith should defend him or support his reelection. That we have an entire party willing to do both of those things speaks to the need to put the GOP out of business.