Donald Trump jolted the political world last week when the president ignored the lessons of the Russia scandal and endorsed foreign intervention in American political campaigns. He scoffed at the idea of contacting the FBI about improper foreign outreach – “Give me a break,” the Republican said, “Life doesn’t work that way” – and rejected the conclusions of his own handpicked FBI director.
Trump added, “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh I think I’d want to hear it…. It’s not an interference. They have information, I think I’d take it.”
The comments caused some discomfort among Republicans, who weren’t altogether eager to defend their president’s indifference to the rule of law and the integrity of his own country’s elections system. But as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) went in a very different direction.
While Stewart said he wouldn’t have said it the way President Donald Trump did to ABC News – the president said he would take intel from a foreign government and maybe not alert the FBI – there’s good reason to look at the information they may be offering.
“It depends on who it is and the circumstances and how credible it is,” Stewart told CNN’s Jim Scuitto. “There might be valuable information that comes from one of our allies. If they look at it, and it’s credible, I think it would be foolish not to take that information.”
Asked about contacting the FBI if offered campaign information from a foreign source, the four-term GOP lawmaker added, “I just think you have to say it depends. Because it truly does depend.”
Chris Stewart is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which suggests he really ought to know better.
Among the problems with this is the simple fact that U.S. law isn’t ambiguous on this point.
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub released a statement Thursday making clear that candidates for public office may not receive help from a foreign government, in what appeared to be a warning to President Trump, who said he would consider taking information about an opponent from another country.
Tweeting her statement, Weintraub wrote, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.”
The head of the agency responsible for campaign finance laws clarified that any campaign that accepts help from a foreign government “risks being on the wrong end of a federal investigation.”
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” Weintraub wrote. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”
The law does not make an exception for information from American allies.
Stepping back, the trajectory of the Republicans’ posture on this is a sight to behold. The original line was they’d never even consider cooperating with a foreign government trying to interfere in an American election. That slowly evolved into a position with nuances and caveats.
To hear Chris Stewart tell it, the argument has arrived at the point at which it’d be “foolish not to take” information from a foreign source.