Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt'

 thehill.com  06/14/2019 10:00:25  2

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew York activists go on hunger strike to advocate for ending solitary confinement Sanders says he would inform FBI about offers of foreign intel Sanders says he would inform FBI about offers of foreign intel MORE has put Republican lawmakers in a tough position by saying that he would be willing to accept damaging information a foreign country such as Russia or China might offer about his 2020 Democratic rival.

Republicans were left shaking their heads Thursday over what many of them saw as a sloppy gaffe by the president, who didnt appear to understand that what he was suggesting was against the law.

Several GOP lawmakers quickly denounced Trumps comments, hoping to bury them and allow the controversy to blow over as soon as possible. �

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks Senate GOP races to break with Trump over accepting foreign info MORE (R-S.C.) said he had to explain to Trump in a phone call Thursday morning that accepting campaign help from a foreign country is a violation of law.

Graham said that Trump tried to defend himself by arguing that he didnt actually say he would take foreign assistance. �

What the president is saying is, I didnt say Id take it. I said, Well, Mr. President, heres what the law is, Graham said. Youll have a conversation with somebody thats pulling for you or wants to help you, you can say, no you cant, youre not an American citizen.

If somebody is trying to give you documents from a foreign government, you cant take them, Graham added.

Graham told reporters Thursday morning that Trumps statement was wrong and a mistake and urged, If a public official is approached by a foreign government offering anything of value & the right answer is no.

Another Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the reaction within the GOP conference to Trumps comments said lawmakers are hoping to quell the controversy as quickly as possible by condemning them.

If we all say we disagree and that foreign assistance should be reported to the FBI, hopefully that will end it quickly, said the lawmaker.

The GOP senator said that Trump was probably just trying to say that he would be open-minded about listening to opposition research but did so in his inartful way.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks MORE (R-Utah) emerged on Thursday as one of the most forceful of Trumps Republican critics.

Romney said it would be wrong and unthinkable that any candidate for president would accept such information that might influence an election from foreign sources.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Senators urge Trump not to use Huawei as 'bargaining chip' in China trade talks MORE (R-Fla.) said despite efforts by his colleagues to quickly put the damaging comments behind them, he expects them to reverberate in the news for the next several days.

The net impact of it is that the media will have a lot to talk about at least until the next statement, he said.

At the same time, Rubio said Republican condemnation of Trumps interview with ABC Newss George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks MORE is unlikely to increase the chances of passing an election security bill, which Democrats are pressing for.

It stirs up a lot of a chatter but it doesnt really change how anything works around here, he said. I dont think it changes anyones views on election interference and I dont think it changes how our law enforcement agencies are operating.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing Senate Judiciary Committee plans markup of drug pricing bill this month MORE (R-Texas), have tried to defend Trump by arguing that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDershowitz says he could 'enthusiastically' vote for Biden over Trump Dershowitz says he could 'enthusiastically' vote for Biden over Trump Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MOREs 2016 presidential campaign paid for work done by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to compile a dossier of negative allegations against Trump.

Graham also mentioned Steele in his comments to reporters, highlighting his interest in investigating.

But such arguments did little to shift the focus from Trumps remarks.

Rubio said Russian or Chinese or other foreign intelligence agents are unlikely to approach Trumps 2020 campaign with damaging information about Joe BidenJoe BidenOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger MORE or any other Democrat he might face in the general election.

Whats more likely, he believes, is that a foreign power seeking to influence the election will work through American political activists and media outlets.

The likeliest way that a foreign intelligence agency would use information is not to go to a candidate. They are likelier to go to a media outlet and find some third-person cutout or just a political activist of some sort to provide information, said Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump's acting budget chief accuses Pelosi of holding debt ceiling increase 'hostage' Trump's acting budget chief accuses Pelosi of holding debt ceiling increase 'hostage' On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill MORE (D-Calif.) are trying to take advantage of the political opportunity by preparing legislation to secure future elections. It would prohibit campaigns from sharing material with foreign governments and require them to report foreign offers of assistance.

GOP lawmakers who face tough re-election races next year are scrambling to put distance between themselves and the president.

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump and House Democrats resume battle Steve King denied seat on Air Force One for Trump trip to Iowa: report MORE (R-Iowa), a Democratic target in 2020, said I wouldnt do it when it comes to accepting a foreign sources offer of information on a rival.

I wouldnt trust intelligence coming from anybody else, she said. If its one of those things that if somebody is trying to engage with my campaign, Id let the authorities know.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks Senate GOP races to break with Trump over accepting foreign info MORE (R-N.C.), who could also face a tough race, said I dont know what he was thinking but he did say if he thought it was suspect, he would call the FBI.

I would call the FBI immediately, he said.

Tillis earlier in the day said that Clinton should have contacted the FBI in 2016 about the Steele Dossier.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks MORE (R-Colo.), another vulnerable incumbent up for re-election next year, said any candidate approached by a foreign power should just say no.

I mean, turn it over, he said.

The battle has left the Senate GOP playing defense.

Sen. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSenate GOP blocks bill to require campaigns report foreign election assistance Senate GOP blocks bill to require campaigns report foreign election assistance Five takeaways from YouTube's week of controversies MORE (R-Tenn.) on Thursday blocked an effort by Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger Trump hit with fierce backlash over interference remarks MORE (D-Va.) to pass by unanimous consent legislation that would require campaigns to report contacts by foreign operatives to the Federal Election Commission and the FBI

The legislation would require campaigns to monitor foreign contacts with campaign representatives and train employees about their legal obligations.

Blackburn argued on the floor that the reporting requirements of Warners Fire Act are overbroad.

She said it would apply to door knockers. It would apply to phone bankers, down to any person who shares their views with a candidate.

She later slammed Warners unanimous consent request as a blatant political stunt.

Warner appeared annoyed by the objection and Blackburns characterization of his bill and claimed her reading of the legislation was not accurate.

The only thing that would have to be reported is if an agent of a foreign government or a foreign national offered something that was already prohibited, he said.

Jordain Carney contributed.

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