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Trump Equates Taking Dirt From Russia With Presidential Diplomacy

Category: Political News,Politics

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Thursday defended his willingness to accept campaign help from Russia or other foreign governments by equating it to the sort of diplomatic meetings he holds with world leaders as the nation’s chief executive.

In an interview broadcast on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump had rejected his own F.B.I. director’s recommendation that candidates call the authorities if foreign governments seek to influence American elections, saying he would gladly take incriminating information about a campaign opponent from adversaries like Russia.

“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day,” he wrote Thursday on Twitter. “I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Whales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’” he added, misspelling the title of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, before fixing and reposting it.

“Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings?” he continued. “How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again. With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters.”

The comparison was startling even for Mr. Trump. Having tea with the queen of England is hardly the same as taking clandestine help from agents of President Vladimir V. Putin as part of a concerted campaign by Russian intelligence to tilt an American presidential election.

American law makes it a crime for a candidate to accept money or anything of value from foreign governments or citizens for purposes of winning an election. Many lawyers argued about whether incriminating information, as Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016 agreed to take from the Russian government, would qualify as a thing of value.

In the end, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, said in his recent report that he could not establish an illegal conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia to influence the election. But his report documented numerous contacts between the two camps and concluded that Mr. Trump benefited from Moscow’s efforts to help elect him.

In his interview with ABC News aired on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump said he saw nothing inherently wrong with taking damaging information about a campaign opponent and would not necessarily call the F.B.I., as the bureau’s director, Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, said campaigns should do.

“It’s not an interference,” Mr. Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, describing it as opposition research like any other generated or accepted by political campaigns. “They have information — I think I’d take it.” He would call the F.B.I. only “if I thought there was something wrong.”

He scoffed at the idea of calling the F.B.I. “Give me a break — life doesn’t work that way,” he said. When Mr. Stephanopoulos noted the F.B.I. director said a candidate should inform the bureau, Mr. Trump snapped, “the F.B.I. director is wrong.”

Democrats criticized Mr. Trump’s comments on Thursday, saying he had taken no lessons from the 2016 experience and seemed even now to be inviting the help of Russia and other foreign powers as he campaigns for re-election in 2020.

“The president has either learned nothing from the last two years or picked up exactly the wrong lesson that he can accept gleefully foreign assistance again and escape the punishment of the law,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters.

“There is no claiming ignorance of the law anymore,” he added. “Foreign adversaries pay attention to every word the president of the United States has to say.”

Mr. Schiff and other Democrats compared the latest comments to Mr. Trump’s public remarks during the campaign when he said, “Russia, if you are listening,” it should find and publish Hillary Clinton’s emails. While Mr. Trump later said he was just joking, Mr. Mueller’s investigators reported that Russian agents tried to do just that hours later.

“The message he seems to be sending now is as long as a foreign power wants to help his campaign, they can count on him having the good discretion not to alert his F.B.I. about it,” Mr. Schiff said. “It is just dangerous, appalling, unethical, unpatriotic — you name it.”

Mr. Schiff said that Democrats were working on legislation that would define receiving foreign assistance to more clearly prohibit using foreign opposition research, or “dirt,” in a federal campaign.

Most Republicans were silent on the matter on Thursday morning. One of the few who spoke out was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of the president.

I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign — either directly or indirectly — to inform the F.B.I. and reject the offer,” he said in a statement.

But he tried to turn the tables on the Democrats by pointing to their use of information gathered about Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who produced a dossier of reports and rumors about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.

“The outrage some of my Democratic colleagues are raising about President Trump’s comments will hopefully be met with equal outrage that their own party hired a foreign national to do opposition research on President Trump’s campaign and that information, unverified, was apparently used by the F.B.I. to obtain a warrant against an American citizen,” Mr. Graham said.

The president’s interview came on the same day that his son Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Capitol Hill to answer questions from lawmakers. During the 2016 campaign, the younger Mr. Trump — along with Jared Kushner, the future president’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, then his campaign chairman — met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer after being told she would have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”


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