Democrats: Trump comments give green light to foreign election meddling

WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers accused President Donald Trump on Thursday of giving Russia the green light to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential race, while a top Republican ally said Trump was wrong to say he would accept political dirt from foreign sources.

The uproar followed televised comments in which the U.S. president told ABC News he would be willing to listen to such damaging information about political opponents as he seeks re-election.

"I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening,” Trump said in an interview aired Wednesday. "It's not an interference. They have information, I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI - if I thought there was something wrong."

Trump's comments came less than three months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted a report that found Russia waged a hacking and influence campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump remarks to ABC drew outrage from Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates seeking to challenge Trump in 2020, as well as one of Trump's leading Republican allies.

"What the president said last night shows clearly, once again, over and over again, that he does not know the difference between right and wrong," said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress. "There is no sense ... any ethical sense that informs his comments and his thinking."

Some Democratic presidential candidates renewed their call to impeach the president. However, Pelosi said Democratic leaders would stick with their plan to investigate Trump and his administration before any formal impeachment proceedings.

One of Trump's closest allies in Congress, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, joined Democrats in criticizing the president's remarks.

"I think it's a mistake," said, Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He accused Democrats of also having accepted damaging information from foreign nationals on political opponents and said any public official contacted by a foreign government with an offer of help to their campaign should reject it and inform the FBI.

Some prominent Republicans struggled to explain the president's comments, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying he was confident Trump was speaking hypothetically.

Others were outspoken in their discomfort. "It is never appropriate to allow a foreign government or its agents to interfere in our election process. Period," said Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News that Trump said he would "of course" go to the FBI if there was wrongdoing, although Trump said he would "maybe" go to the FBI.

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Trump children on state visit to London
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Trump children on state visit to London
Quite the crew at Buckingham Palace last night. A truly unforgettable experience with Her Majesty The Queen. #london
A spectacular State Banquet hosted by Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace 🇺🇸🇬🇧
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox arrive through the East Gallery for a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Victoria Jones- WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Such an incredible honor to be invited to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty The Queen and the amazing Royal Family. Truly an experience of a lifetime.
Magical night at Buckingham Palace with my best friend! ♥️
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 03: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner stand on a balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Ceremonial Welcome in the Buckingham Palace Garden for US President Donald Trump on day 1 of his State Visit to the UK on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Ivanka Trump (L), daughter of US President Donald Trump, and Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, (R) view American items in the Royal collection at Buckingham Palace on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Tolga Akmen - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
National Security Advisor of The US John Bolton and Ivanka Trump leave 10 Downing Street, London, on the second day of US President Donald Trump's state visit to the UK. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
Touring Westminster Abbey after @POTUS and @FLOTUS laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. #usstatevisit
🇺🇸🇬🇧
Unbelievable tour of the Churchill War Rooms deep under the streets of London. Much of World War II was run from this very chair. Thank you to Prime Minister May for the wonderful tour and this incredible experience!
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Ivanka Trump and husband, special advisor to the US president Jared Kushner, look on during a visit to Westminster Abbey on June 03, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/ Getty Images)
Looking forward to another great day in London. 🇺🇸🇬🇧 #USStateVisit
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner watch from a balcony as US President Donald Trump inspects a Guard of Honour at Buckingham Palace on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump look out of the window at Buckingham Palace during the visit of US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on June 03, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 04: John Bolton, US National Security Advisor, and Ivanka Trump leave 10 Downing Street for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the second day of President Trump's State Visit on June 4, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit began with lunch with the Queen, followed by a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, whilst today he will attend business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 03: Jared Kushner (R) and Ivanka Trump visit Westminster Abbery on June 03, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage)
US National Security Advisor John Bolton (L) and Ivanka Trump leave from 10 Downing Street in London on June 4, 2019, on the second day of the US President and First Lady's three-day State Visit to the UK. - US President Donald Trump turns from pomp and ceremony to politics and business on Tuesday as he meets Prime Minister Theresa May on the second day of a state visit expected to be accompanied by mass protests. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 03: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Ivanka Trump stands on a balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Ceremonial Welcome in the Buckingham Palace Garden for US President Donald Trump on day 1 of his State Visit to the UK on June 3, 2019 in London, England. President Trump's three-day state visit will include lunch with the Queen, and a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, as well as business meetings with the Prime Minister and the Duke of York, before travelling to Portsmouth to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
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"THING OF VALUE"

Any foreign contribution of "money or other thing of value" violates U.S. campaign finance law. Legal experts say knowingly soliciting information from a foreign entity would also be illegal.

An FBI counterintelligence investigation of Russian election activities in the 2016 presidential election sparked Mueller's probe, which confirmed U.S. intelligence agencies' findings that Russia worked to help Trump win.

Mueller, whose investigation examined a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that Trump's campaign had with Russians promising dirt on Clinton, did not charge Trump campaign staff who attended the meeting.

Trump defended his remarks in a flurry of tweets on Thursday morning, saying he talks with foreign governments daily but he did not address the issue of accepting political dirt on his opponents. "Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous!"

Top Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committee expressed alarm at Trump's comments.

Senator Mark Warner recalled Trump's "Russia, if you are listening" call for Moscow to dig up Clinton's missing emails during the 2016 campaign.

"The President has given Russia the green light to interfere in the 2020 election," Warner wrote in a Twitter post.

"The president has either learned nothing in the last two years or picked up exactly the wrong lesson - that he can accept gleefully foreign assistance again and escape the punishment of the law," U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the Democratic 2020 race so far, said: "This isn't about politics. It is a threat to our national security.”

Democratic presidential candidates who renewed calls for Trump's impeachment included U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell.

"A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation. Now, he said he'd do it all over again. It's time to impeach Donald Trump,” Warren said. (Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice, Richrad Cowan, Ginger Gibson; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

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