Sen. Lindsey Graham sharply rebuked President Donald Trump Thursday for saying he would likely take dirt on his 2020 opponents from a foreign government, though he also gave the president an out, calling it potentially a “mistake of law.”
“That’s not the right answer,” Graham told reporters Thursday. “A foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no.”
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In an interview Wednesday with ABC News, Trump told anchor George Stephanopoulos that he wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to alert the FBI if he was presented with damaging information on a political opponent by an agent of a foreign government except for if there was perceived wrongdoing.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.”
The president also brushed off the fact, when pointed out to him, that his opinion lies in direct conflict with that of his FBI director, who Trump then said was “wrong.”
Graham said he’d been consistent in his views on the issue, noting that he agreed with Christopher Wray. But he, along with other Republicans and the White House in defending Trump, conflated the Trump campaign’s willingness to meet with Russians claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016 with the Steele dossier. The unverified opposition research on Trump was compiled by a former British spy that was initially funded by Republicans, then the Clinton campaign, and ultimately wound up in the hands of the FBI.
Graham made clear on Thursday that “I don’t want to send a signal to encourage this,” but said he hoped he could find common ground with Democrats.
“I think it’s a mistake. I think it’s a mistake of law,” he said, adding that “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 those things are wrong.”
Current campaign finance law prohibits foreign nationals from directly or indirectly making, among other things, “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value,” which Graham said Thursday he thought explicitly outlawed the kind of help Trump said he would be willing to accept.
“But I’m willing to make it clear if we need to,” he added.