Republicans' reactions to Trump's welcoming of foreign election interference are just as shameful as expected
It never takes very long for Republicans to live up to the very low expectations they have set for themselves.
After President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he would readily accept offers of election help from foreign governments — and that he would have no obligation to call the FBI if he received such offers — the GOP is doing little to criticize or rebuke him. They couldn't even seem to take Trump at his word and believe what he said, insisting that the president would actually do the right thing and reject foreign interference, despite his own claims to the contrary. Many Republicans tried to deflect the questions by bringing up accusations against Democrats.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), for example, lashed out at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) for taking a phone call in 2017 from foreigners offering dirt on Trump, a call that later turned out to be from pranksters. But Schiff, in that very call, told the pranksters to bring their information to the FBI. Schiff also said that he called the FBI before and after the call, and he informed the Republican leadership of the House Intelligence Committee at the time about the contacts. This is the opposite of what Trump suggested lawmakers would do in this scenario — secretly accept the information as legitimate opposition research and keep the FBI in the dark.
When he was pressed on Trump's comments, McCarthy repeatedly ignored them and complained about Democrats. Even if we accepted that his complaints about Democrats were valid, not a mere smokescreen, he should be at least as mad that the president himself said he would be happy to collude with foreigners as they work to interfere in U.S. elections
But, predictably, he did nothing to actually push back against Trump.
Seung Min Kim, a reporter for the Washington Post, tried to press Chairman Jim Risch of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to offer a comment on Trump's remarks, but he outright refused.
"I don't want to do an interview on that, but thanks for asking," he said. Kim pressed him on the fact that his committee literally oversees foreign relations, but he still refused to comment.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) both tried to deflect the conversation to talk about the Steele Dossier, rather than Trump's comments:
Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Thom Tillis are among the lawmakers pivoting from discussing President Trump's rem… https://t.co/kC1Kn5EvkE— CNN Politics (@CNN Politics) 1560448426
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) briefly acknowledged on Twitter that calling the FBI is the right thing to do if offered foreign election help, but then he pivoted, too, to complaining about Steele Dossier as well in an obvious effort to distract from Trump's comments.
Of course, it's not illegal to pay contractors who hire foreign employees to conduct services for a campaign, as even Republicans have admitted. And it's an entirely different matter than accepting help from a foreign government, offered essentially as an in-kind donation, which could be illegal. If not illegal, then it is at least likely an attempt for a foreign intelligence service to wittingly or unwittingly recruit the target. If Republicans actually cared about Democrats funding a foreigner national to do research, they would object even more to a sitting president welcoming election interference from other governments. But they don't really care — they're just interested in defending Trump by whatever means necessary.
Some Republicans, like Sen Joni Ernst (R-IA) contradicted the president and said that he was wrong to suggest politicians accept these kinds of offers of foreign help all the time. And Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said she has "hope" Trump would turn to the FBI if he received such an offer. But this was hardly meaningful opposition to the president's actual stance.
And when Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA tried to push a bill that would require campaigns to report to the FBI when they receive offers of foreign help, but Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected, as CNN's Manu Raju reported.