Not All Republicans Are Defending Trump’s Inclination To Accept Foreign Dirt

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19:  Sen. Lindsey Graham questions U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing June 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on recent immigration issues relating to border security and the EB-5 Investor Visa Program.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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