WASHINGTON — Having gotten away with accepting Russian help to win his 2016 election and admitting he would welcome foreign help again in 2020, President Donald Trump on Thursday continued falsely accusing Democrats of those actions.
On Wednesday evening, ABC News aired Trump’s statement that he was open to foreign help in his reelection campaign: “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Republican critics of Trump called his new statements “disgraceful” but, four years after the start of his campaign, no longer surprising.
“Trump signaled to autocrats around the world that help him win reelection, and he would sell out American national security,” said John Weaver, a top aide to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries. “He’s committing obstruction and now he’s seeking foreign assistance to win a campaign he is set to lose in an electoral landslide. Trump is beyond disgraceful.”
Mark Salter, a former aide to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, said: “Trump doesn’t have an ounce of love of country, only love of self.”
Trump as well as his top White House aides nevertheless appeared to have settled on the strategy of equating his use of material stolen by Russian intelligence in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign to Democrats’ use of former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to research Trump’s ties to Russia.
“This information was gotten by the crooked Hillary campaign,” Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News, using the term Trump invented for his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. “They’re the ones who solicited and paid for information from a foreign entity and Christopher Steele.”
Gidley also repeated Trump’s frequent claims that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report found there was “no collusion” between Trump and Russia and “no obstruction” of Mueller’s investigation.
“The president got no information from Russia,” Gidley said.
All three of Gidley’s assertions, though, are false.
Mueller’s report detailed a number of actions that constitute “collusion” as the word is defined, from the meeting at Trump Tower between Russians offering assistance from Putin’s government to the use of material stolen by Russian intelligence agents.
Mueller specifically pointed out that “collusion” is not a legal term, and that he did not charge criminal conspiracy because it would have been difficult to prove that Donald Trump Jr., who set up the meeting, knew that doing so was illegal.
On the matter of obstruction, Mueller detailed 10 different instances of Trump working to derail the Russia probe, ranging from a demand that top White House lawyer Don McGahn fire Mueller to his orders to former campaign aides to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to disallow an investigation into the 2016 election entirely.
In an extraordinary public statement late last month, Mueller made clear that he believed Department of Justice guidelines prohibited him from prosecuting Trump while he was still president. “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider,” he said. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
One top Republican National Committee member said that Trump’s remarks to ABC about using foreign assistance were him speaking, as usual, without thinking. “I don’t think it’s terribly shocking. I think his emphasis on it is inappropriate. But that’s Trump,” the member said on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s campaign on Thursday would not respond to multiple queries from HuffPost about whether it has been or is currently getting assistance from foreign entities.
The party itself, meanwhile, repeated Trump’s claims that it was the Democrats, not Trump, who were at fault.
“Hillary Clinton and the DNC used disinformation acquired from Russian sources by a former British spy to attack President Trump in the 2016 election,” said RNC spokesman Steve Guest. “So while the media has totally ignored the Democrats’ actions, it comes as no surprise that they’re treating a hypothetical response to a hypothetical question as breaking news.”
Steele, whom Republicans are targeting in particular as a “foreign individual,” was a longtime officer in British intelligence. Since his retirement, he has done contract work for the FBI in the investigation of FIFA, the international soccer sanctioning body, which led to indictments and guilty pleas of some two dozen individuals. He was hired by an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which originally worked for a Republican donor but then switched to the Clinton campaign after Trump won the Republican nomination. Steele has said he was alarmed at some of the things he was learning about Trump and for that reason alerted contacts in American intelligence.
By that point, though, the FBI had already launched a counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign based on tips from allied intelligence services.
“The leadership of the GOP deserve special condemnation,” said Weaver, who previously had also worked for McCain. “The party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, of Eisenhower and Reagan no longer exists, except in the history books. The national GOP has turned its back on integrity, on national security, on the rule of law. It deserves the fate of the Know Nothings.”