WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump’s assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power’s help in his 2020 campaign ricocheted through Washington on Thursday, with Democrats condemning it as a call for further election interference and Republicans struggling to defend his comments.
Trump seemed to dismiss the threat posed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, one that led to sweeping indictments by special counsel Robert Mueller, and his incendiary remarks come as congressional investigations into the meddling have quickened.
Asked by ABC News what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said:
“I think I’d want to hear it.” He added that he’d have no obligation to call the FBI. “There’s nothing wrong with listening.”
The Democratic denunciations were swift and overwhelming.
“It’s a very sad thing that he doesn’t know his right from wrong,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday.
“It’s an invasion of our democracy. Everybody in the country should be totally appalled by what the president said.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller painstakingly documented Russian efforts to boost Trump’s campaign and undermine that of his Democratic rival.
But while Mueller’s investigation didn’t establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s campaign, Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks in 2016 and at one point implored hackers to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton — “Russia, if you’re listening,” he said.
Democrats said Trump, in his interview, was essentially asking if Russia is still listening.
“This man has so little moral compass that he doesn’t understand that taking help from any foreign government during a political campaign is an assault on our democracy,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate’s intelligence committee.