Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, said Sunday there is “nothing wrong” with a campaign accepting information from Russians, defending the Trump team’s efforts to obtain damaging material about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race.
Critics said Giuliani’s comments, made in the wake of the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, could encourage other campaigns to engage with foreign governments.
“I said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s not ok to seek Russian help in your campaign,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a tweet. “It’s not ok to use materials they stole from your opponent, or to make it part of your campaign strategy. Sadly, my GOP colleagues do think that’s ok. The American people know better.”
With his comments, Giuliani was “offering a green light” for campaigns to accept in-kind contributions from foreign governments, said Richard Hasen, election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, calling it “troubling.”
“In terms of good campaign practice, as soon as a campaign hears that a foreign government or a foreign entity wants to give help to the campaign, the appropriate thing to do is to go straight to the FBI and to decline that offer,” Hasen said.
In Sunday’s interview, Giuliani told host Jake Tapper that “any candidate in the whole world” would accept negative information on an opponent.
Pressed by Tapper on whether that includes information “from a hostile foreign source,” Giuliani replied, “Who says it’s even illegal?”
Campaigns are not allowed to solicit or accept foreign contributions, defined as “anything of value” under campaign finance laws and regulations. Federal campaigns can hire foreigners to conduct opposition research, as long as they pay a fair-market fee.
According to the report, Trump sought ways to turn leaks of Democratic emails stolen by the Russians to his advantage during the campaign.
At a rally in July 2016, Trump expressed hope that Russia would find about 30,000 emails that Hillary Clinton had said she deleted because they were of a personal nature. After that, “Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” Mueller’s team found.
Separately, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer who he was told would share damaging information about Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to assist his father’s campaign, saying in an email: “I love it.”
In his report, Mueller wrote that “candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution” that is prohibited under the ban on foreign contributions.
But the special counsel declined to pursue campaign finance charges, in part because it would be difficult to demonstrate that participants knowingly and willfully broke the law, the report said.
Lanhee Chen, who served as 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s policy director, said the standard for whether campaigns should accept information from foreign sources should not just be about legality — but whether it is appropriate.
“I can tell you, pretty firmly, that we certainly would have been deeply suspicious, at the very least, of any information coming from a foreign source — let alone a Russian source,” Chen said.
“If anyone in our campaign team had come across any foreign actor trying to provide information or influence our thinking, we certainly would have reported it to proper law enforcement right away. That’s how you generally handle these things,” Chen added.
Romney has been one of the few Republicans to speak out about Mueller’s findings, writing in a tweet Friday that he was “appalled” that associates of Trump’s campaign had “welcomed help from Russia.”
He called the report a “sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”
Asked about Romney’s criticism of Trump on Sunday, Utah’s senior Republican senator, Mike Lee, notably made no mention of the president in his initial reply, pivoting instead to criticize former president Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.
“Well, first of all, I think Senator Romney has some credibility with regard to Russia,” Lee said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” pointing to Romney’s warnings about Russia during the 2012 presidential campaign. “Sadly, his warnings went unheeded. And under President Obama’s leadership over the next four years, Russia’s activities, its nefarious efforts to undermine our system, continued.”
Asked whether he agreed with Romney on Trump in light of Mueller’s findings, Lee said there was “nothing in this report that changes my view of this president.”
Shane Harris and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.