Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday said political campaigns should reject offers of assistance from foreign sources and report it to the FBI after President Donald Trump said he would welcome information from a foreign government on his opponents in the 2020 election.
“I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign – either directly or indirectly – to inform the FBI and reject the offer,” Graham, a close ally of Trump, said in a statement released by his office.
But in disagreeing with the president, Graham also took a shot at Democrats for funding a collection of opposition research on Trump during the 2016 campaign via a Washington firm called Fusion GPS. The firm paid a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to compile several reports on alleged links between Russia and those close to Trump.
“The outrage some of my Democratic colleagues are raising about President Trump’s comments will hopefully be met with equal outrage that their own party hired a foreign national to do opposition research on President Trump’s campaign,” added Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A conservative website, the Washington Free Beacon, said in 2017 it first started paying Fusion GPS to do background research on Trump and other candidates during the heated GOP presidential primary. That research was funded by GOP donor Paul Singer. The Free Beacon said its relationship with the firm ended before Fusion hired Steele.
Steele did not work for the British government at the time. The FBI had also made payments to him over an unknown period of time and listed him as a confidential source. His work, accuracy aside, was considered legal.
During an interview with ABC that aired Wednesday, Trump was asked whether he would accept information from a foreign entity like China or Russia on a political rival, or instead call the FBI.
“I think you might want to listen,” Trump said. “I think there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said], ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Trump’s statement contradicted FBI Director Christopher Wray, who told Congress during a hearing earlier this year that the FBI would want to know if a foreign government was trying to influence a U.S. election.
“The FBI director is wrong because, frankly, it doesn’t happen like that in life,” Trump said in the interview.
Trump’s comments prompted another wave of calls for impeachment from Democratic lawmakers and his 2020 Democratic challengers.
Other Republicans approached the matter cautiously.
“Number one: the first phone call I’d make after that would be to the FBI. The second phone call would be to corroborate the information,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is facing a GOP primary challenger, told reporters on Thursday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), meanwhile, called Trump’s remarks “dangerous territory.”
“We saw what happened with the Clinton opposition research, using a British spy’s dossier,” Cornyn said.