As is often the case when President Trump makes earth-scorching statements that break with precedent, Republican lawmakers were shoved into the hot seat again on Thursday and asked to defend Trump’s admission that he’d accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign entity.
But many weren’t willing to do so.
One of President Trump’s most ardent allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) didn’t mince words when addressing the legal “mistake” of accepting any help from a foreign government. But Graham also couldn’t break with Trump without tossing the President’s favorite punching bag under the bus.
“I think it is a mistake. I think it is a mistake of law,” he told reporters Thursday. “I don’t want to send a signal to encourage this. And I hope my Democrat colleagues will be equally offended by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016, where a foreign agent was paid for by a political party to gather opposition research. All of those things are wrong. … If a foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign, giving you anything of value — whether if be money or information on your opponent — the right answer is no.”
Graham calls acceptance of political dirt from foreign powers a "mistake" pic.twitter.com/IuLTgn8xcB
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) June 13, 2019
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), unsurprisingly, also put distance between himself and Trump’s foreign dirt admission, arguing that if he had received information from a foreign power in his presidential or senate campaigns, he would’ve alerted the FBI. During his interview with ABC, Trump explicitly said he didn’t think it would be necessary to alert federal authorities.
“So far as I know, we never received any information from a foreign government and had we received any information particularly from a hostile government, we would have immediately informed the FBI,” he told reporters Thursday.
“Accepting the work product of a foreign government or the effort of a foreign government to try and influence an election of one candidate or another? It simply strikes at the heart of our democracy,” Romney later told Politico. “It’s wrong. It’s antithetical to our democratic principles.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has never been shy about putting a wedge between herself and the President, was straightforward in her denunciation of Trump’s latest blunder.
“If a hostile government like Russia contacts a federal official or a federal candidate with an offer of assistance, to me the appropriate action to take is to call the FBI,” she told reporters Thursday.
Romney and Collins won't defend Trump's foreign dirt remarks pic.twitter.com/z2kOWEdHET
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) June 13, 2019
In comments to Politico, Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) made veiled swats at Trump.
“I would not trust information coming from another country. I wouldn’t do it,” Ernst told Politico. “I can’t speak for him, but I wouldn’t want it. I’d definitely alert the authorities.”
“You don’t ever want to take foreign money, that’s illegal. And the next route to money is information,” Isakson (R-Ga.) told Politico. “So if you take information from somebody that’s foreign and it’s involved in your campaign, you’re inviting the risk of inviting foreign money into your campaign.”
Other more fervent defenders of the President are taking a dodgeball approach to Trump’s befuddling admission, like House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who, during his weekly press conference Thursday reassured reporters that he felt Trump would always “do the right” thing in the face of foreign dirt.
“The President would always do the right action,” he told reporters Thursday. “I’ve watched this president, I’ve listened to this president. He doesn’t want foreign governments interfering in our election. He’s been very strong about that. … He’s been so strong about Russia.”
HAPPENING NOW: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy holds weekly news briefing. https://t.co/JwdDlhKgMN
— ABC News (@ABC) June 13, 2019
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) took a page from Graham’s book and blatantly pivoted to attack Clinton over her campaign’s handling of the infamous Christopher Steele dossier instead.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Thom Tillis are among the lawmakers pivoting from discussing President Trump's remarks on obtaining information on political rivals from foreign governments to the infamous Steele dossier https://t.co/6K6UXk65Tg pic.twitter.com/AIk0Q4NKqP
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 13, 2019