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Opinion What a presidential president would say about campaign dirt from a foreign foe

President Trump at the White House on June 12 in Washington.
President Trump at the White House on June 12 in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“I THINK you might want to listen; there isn’t anything 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,” President Trump said during a Wednesday interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “You don’t call the FBI. . . . Give me a break — life doesn’t work that way.”

When Mr. Trump made objectionable remarks in the past, we wrote editorials imagining what a decent president would have said. We haven’t done that in a while; it is pointless to expect him to act presidential. But this instance is so disturbing that we think it is worth reminding ourselves once again of how a normal, law-respecting president would speak. 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.

That is why I denounce and renounce any foreign government seeking to aid my campaign, and I will not use any material they dig up, even if it might benefit me. I have instructed Republican campaign committees to spurn any scandal-mongering from foreign sources and to excise any such information from any campaign material. I also will insist that nonparty groups, such as super PACs, do not seek information or otherwise cooperate with foreign actors.

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.

Moreover, as president, I have a unique responsibility to act in the best interests of the nation, not in the interests of a foreign government to which I am indebted — and not to my family company’s bottom line. That is why I did my best at the outset of my presidency to divest from businesses and other interests that could raise conflict-of-interest concerns. That is why I released my tax returns and, beyond that, issued a thorough report on my remaining financial holdings. That is why I removed myself and my family members from decision-making roles in my business, turning it over to an executive whom I do not consult. Americans deserve better than a president who takes money from foreigners and lobbyists at a hotel one day, then hands out government favors to them the next.

The country is going to have enough argument and disagreement over the next year and a half of campaigning. We don’t need any foreign “help” making it worse.

Read more:

Max Boot: Trump has bragged that he will break the law

Karen Tumulty: Trump sees no national interest beyond his own

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