Democrats were left “stunned” Wednesday after President Donald Trump’s defense team made the bold claim during the Q&A portion of the Senate impeachment trial that soliciting or accepting information from foreign governments about one’s political rivals is OK so long as the information is “credible.”
The argument was put forth by White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin in response to a question posed by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) about Trump’s apparent willingness to solicit dirt about his campaign rivals from countries such as Russia and China.
“Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws,” Philbin said. “If there is credible information ― credible information of wrongdoing by someone who is running for a public office ― it’s not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light.”
“The idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake,” he added.
Reacting to Philbin’s remarks, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), one of the House impeachment managers, said she was “stunned to hear that now apparently it’s OK for the president to get information from foreign governments in an election.”
“That’s news to me,” Lofgren said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he too was “stunned” by Philbin’s argument, The Washington Post reported.
“I have a hard time even believing they were making that argument,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said of Trump’s defense team, according to CNN.
“It’s so shocking,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) added.
Senate Republicans had a different take on the matter.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Philbin was “absolutely correct” in his assertion, HuffPost’s Igor Bobic reported.
“I believe that if I asked a foreign government to announce an investigation into my opponent where there is no legitimacy, that would be a corrupt act on my part,” Graham said.
Philbin’s remarks about foreign interference followed an earlier line of defense posited by Trump’s team that the president of the United States can, in effect, do whatever he wants to get himself reelected as long as he believes that his reelection is “in the public interest.”
House manager and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) excoriated Philbin and the rest of Trump’s team for considerably “lowering” the bar in their defense of the president.
“We’ve witnessed over the course of the last few days and the long day today a remarkable lowering of the bar to the point now where everything’s OK as long as the president believes it’s in his reelection interest,” Schiff said.