Prominent Democrats voiced outrage Wednesday after President Trump admitted he would be willing to listen to political opposition research by foreign actors — even as they failed to condemn Democrats, including representatives of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), for funding the creation of the anti-Trump “Steele dossier” by a former British spy.
Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would not necessarily contact the FBI if such an approach was made. Video from the interview went public Wednesday evening.
“I think I’d want to hear it. … I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said. “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.”
Some legal scholars have argued that campaign finance law bars U.S. campaigns from knowingly receiving or soliciting information from foreign actors. Other prominent law professors counter that unless such information constitutes a “thing of value,” there are no restrictions on sharing or seeking the information.
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UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, for example, has said that any attempt to criminalize mere information sharing between U.S. campaigns and foreign actors could run afoul of the First Amendment. This particular area of law, he has noted, is not particularly well fleshed out.
Nevertheless, top Democrats unloaded on Trump almost immediately after the video surfaced online.
“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,” anti-Trump former CIA Director John Brennan wrote on Twitter. “‘Unfit to be President’ is a gross understatement. @realDonaldTrump is undeserving of any public office, and all Americans should be outraged.”
Wrote Virginia Democrat Rep. Don Beyer: “Trump just blew way past ‘no collusion,’ he’s broadcasting his willingness to receive help from a hostile foreign power in 2020. He’s glad his son didn’t call the FBI about Russian help and says he wouldn’t call them in 2020. Yes we absolutely need an impeachment inquiry.”
Beyer, in May, became the first Virginia Democrat to call for Trump’s impeachment. Other political commentators shared his dim view of Trump’s comments.
“Trump goes on TV to solicit next foreign collusion,” wrote New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait.
“Completely predictable,” said CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter. “Don’t you people get it yet? Trump is getting away with campaign finance crimes, collusion attempts and obstruction. Right now. As we speak. Why would he change? Bullies bully until someone with courage, savvy, and might forces them to retreat.”
Beyer, Brennan and others did not level similar accusations against Democrats in early May, when Ukraine’s embassy wrote that a DNC insider reached out in 2016 seeking information on President Trump’s campaign.
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Ambassador Valeriy Chaly said DNC contractor Alexandra Chalupa pushed for Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko to mention Paul Manafort’s ties to Ukraine publicly during a visit to the U.S., and sought detailed financial information on his dealings in the country, The Hill reported. At the time, Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman.
“The embassy got to know Ms. Chalupa because of her engagement with Ukrainian and other diasporas in Washington D.C., and not in her DNC capacity. We’ve learned about her DNC involvement later,” Chaly said in a statement released by the Ukrainian Embassy. “We were surprised to see Alexandra’s interest in Mr. Paul Manafort’s case. It was her own cause. The Embassy representatives unambiguously refused to get involved in any way, as we were convinced that this is a strictly U.S. domestic matter.”
The Ukrainian Embassy confirmed the comments to Fox News but disputed the suggestion that Chalupa sought “dirt” on Trump, saying that she was concerned about the role on Manafort due to his previous work in the country — and said she did not ask for any materials specifically from the embassy.
But earlier this year, Ukraine Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko opened a probe into the so-called “black ledger” files that led to Manafort’s abrupt departure from the Trump campaign. The investigation commenced after an unearthed audio recording showed that a senior Ukrainian anticorruption official apparently admitted to leaking Manafort’s financial information in 2016 — including his ties to pro-Russian actors in Ukraine — to benefit Clinton.
Ukrainian law enforcement officials have said they have a slew of evidence of collusion and wrongdoing by Democrats, and that they have been trying to share this information with U.S. officials in the Justice Department. A Ukrainian court recently ruled that the Manafort leak amounted to illegal interference in the U.S. election.
Additionally, Republicans have pressed for answers on the Hillary Clinton campaign and DNC’s role in the creation of the infamous Steele dossier, written by British ex-spy Christopher Steele. The Clinton campaign and DNC, through the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, funded the dossier’s creation by a foreign national.
A key source for Steele was an ex-Russian intelligence officer, according to notes obtained by The Hill and written by Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. “Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the U.S.,” Ohr wrote.
There is evidence of “obvious collusion the Democrats had through [Fusion GPS founder] Glenn Simpson and through Fusion GPS, that they were talking directly to Russia,” California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes told The Hill.
The FBI went on to cite the dossier to obtain a secret surveillance warrant to monitor former Trump aide Carter Page. Numerous problems with the Steele dossier’s reliability have surfaced, including several issues that were brought to the FBI’s attention before it cited the dossier in its FISA application and subsequent renewals. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report made plain, for example, that then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen did not travel to Prague to conspire with Russian hackers seeking to access Democrat files, as the dossier alleged.
Mueller also was unable to substantiate the dossier’s claims that Page had received a large payment relating to the sale of a share of Rosneft, a Russian oil giant.
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Nunes, in a letter to Trump, flagged the potential involvement of foreign intelligence services in that effort.
Nunes cited a May 19 article in The Telegraph titled, “Theresa May’s spy chiefs were briefed on explosive Christopher Steele dossier before Donald Trump.” The report said the heads of MI5 and MI6 and a top May adviser were told about Steele’s salacious memos on the Trump campaign after his 2016 election victory — before Trump was made aware.
Nunes said the article raised “important questions about the potential role foreign government officials may have played in spreading the dossier’s false allegations and what actions they may have taken in response to the allegations.”
Fox News’ Liam Quinn contributed to this report.