President Trump has openly said he would not object to hearing out foreign figures if they came to him offering dirt on a 2020 opponent.
“There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country... Norway: ‘We have information on your opponent.’ I think I’d wanna hear it,” he told George Stephanopoulos in a new interview with ABC News.
“It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it.” Trump said if he thought there was something wrong, he would turn to the FBI—but said foreign figures offering dirt was simply “oppo research.”
“If you go talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is,” he said in an excerpt of the ABC interview released Wednesday. When Stephanopoulos noted that FBI Director Christopher Wray wanted that kind of incident to be reported to the agency, Trump said Wray was “wrong.” “This is somebody that said, ‘We have information on your opponent.’ ‘Oh, let me call the FBI.’ Give me a break,” Trump said. “Life doesn’t work that way.”
Trump’s comments come as his administration is still dealing internally with the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, in which he noted accounts of contact between officials on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russians. In the summary of his report, he ultimately stopped short of concluding that a criminal conspiracy with Russia took place.
Trump is the only 2020 candidate who has not ruled out using hacked material, as The Daily Beast first reported.
Soon after excerpts of his remarks were released, a chorus of 2020 Democrats was quick to respond with calls for impeachment.
Speaking on CNN to Anderson Cooper, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said, “Well, Anderson, to tell you the truth, I am not exactly shocked. I think we have a president who neither understands the Constitution of the United States or respects the Constitution. Somebody that does not believe in the separation of powers and somebody who thinks he’s above the law. I mean, that is why I believe the House should begin impeachment inquiries on Trump. So, no, I’m not shocked.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeted, “The #MuellerReport made it clear: A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation. Now, he said he'd do it all over again. It's time to impeach Donald Trump.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) echoed that: “It’s time for Congress to begin impeachment hearings,” Gillibrand wrote on Twitter, linking to a tweet of the president’s interview.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said in an appearance on MSNBC, “This is the commander in chief. It’s outrageous. This guy doesn’t understand the job and can’t do it very well.” Meanwhile, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called it “disgraceful.” “This is inexcusable,” she tweeted. “The President of the United States just effectively gave permission to foreign agents to interfere in our elections. We need my Secure Elections Act and Honest Ads Act passed immediately. The 2020 elections are not secure. Disgraceful.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan also sharply criticized Trump's statement, while simultaneously making a case for former Vice President Joe Biden, who is hoping to run against Trump in 2020.
“This is just the latest example of what Vice President Biden meant when he said that Mr. Trump is an existential threat to our country,” Brennan tweeted. “‘Unfit to be President’ is a gross understatement. @realDonaldTrump is undeserving of any public office, and all Americans should be outraged.”