Welcome to today’s political Rorschach test, in which your political leanings can be determined by whether you answer Russia or Norway. Both come up in this part of Donald Trump’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who asked whether Trump would accept dirt on his political opponent(s) from foreign sources. “I think I’d take it,” Trump said, and offered Norway as an example of a source he wouldn’t turn down. “We’re talking about Russia,” Stephanopoulos answered:
EXCLUSIVE: Pres. Trump tells @GStephanopoulos he wouldn't necessarily alert the FBI if approached by foreign figures with information on his 2020 opponent: "It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it." https://t.co/IAEuspsYHq pic.twitter.com/nKEdBwVdNf
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 13, 2019
President Donald Trump may not alert the FBI if foreign governments offered damaging information against his 2020 rivals during the upcoming presidential race, he said, despite the deluge of investigations stemming from his campaign’s interactions with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
Asked by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in the Oval Office on Wednesday whether his campaign would accept such information from foreigners — such as China or Russia — or hand it over the FBI, Trump said, “I think maybe you do both.”
“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
What about calling the FBI, Stephanopoulos asked. What about it, Trump replied:
“The FBI director said that is what should happen,” Stephanopoulos replied, referring to comments FBI Director Christopher Wray made during congressional testimony last month, when he told lawmakers “the FBI would want to know about” any foreign election meddling. …
“The FBI director is wrong, because frankly it doesn’t happen like that in life,” Trump said. “Now maybe it will start happening, maybe today you’d think differently.”
So what’s the correct answer? Ukraine, and for a couple of reasons. First, most people either never knew or have forgotten that Hillary Clinton and the DNC were reaching out to Ukraine for dirt on Trump during the 2016 campaign, only in a much more circumspect fashion, a point which Stephanopoulos fails to mention here. Let’s not forget too that the Steele dossier was also an attempt to use foreign sources for dirt on an opponent; Steele used his own Russian sources to get what now looks like a disinformation folio, manipulated to rattle the election in its own way.
Second, Trump has to consider Joe Biden his most likely opponent in next year’s election, and Biden’s connection to Ukraine politics has already come up in this cycle. Trump is likely hopeful that there’s more where that came from, even if Rudy Giuliani doesn’t collect it in person. With House Democrats trying to dig through his bank records and tax returns, he doesn’t want to take anything off the table.
Still, this is a remarkably tone-deaf argument, especially after the last two-plus years. Team Trump tried to use foreign sources for dirt on Hillary and botched it, creating a disastrous blowback from which Trump is still trying to recover. The Trump Tower debacle alone should have been enough of a learning experience to swear off of that kind of strategy ever again, especially with the same team forming for the next election. The smart answer here would have been, “I don’t need anyone’s help to beat Joe Biden except from good ol’ red-blooded American voters.” How difficult is that to say, even if you don’t necessarily mean it?