President Trump answers reporter's question at the White House
President Donald Trump answers reporter's question during a press conference at the White House in Washington.

CAPITOL HILL - VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, saying his stated willingness to accept information about electoral opponents from foreign powers should appall everyone in the United States. 

"It's a very sad thing that he does not know right from wrong," Pelosi told reporters. "We have a president ignoring the law and not honoring his oath of office." 

The speaker's comments come amid widespread alarm from Democrats over Trump's comments about foreign election interference in an ABC News interview released Wednesday. 

"I think you might want to listen.  There's nothing wrong with listening," he told ABC News. "If somebody called from a country — Norway — 'We have information on your opponent.' Oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

When asked if he wants that kind of interference in the election process, Trump said, "It's not interference," and that members of Congress "all do it."

"They always have, and that's the way it is," Trump said.

FILE - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 9, 2019.

The head of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, tweeted a statement on the president's comments Thursday, prefacing her remarks with the comment:  "I would not have thought that I needed to say this."

In the statement, issued on FEC letterhead, Weintraub said "It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election."  She added that the Founding Fathers of the United States "knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America's."

Pelosi on Thursday refrained from directly addressing if accepting help from a foreign power would constitute an impeachable offense.

In floor remarks, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump's comments put him one step away from dictators and autocrats who manipulate elections to stay in power.

“The president’s comments are undemocratic, un-American and disgraceful. The president’s comments suggest he believes winning an election is more important than the integrity of the election,” Schumer said.

 

Trump Faces Backlash Over Remark on Foreign Interference video player.
Embed

Trump clarified his remarks in a Thursday tweet, writing that he talks to foreign governments every day.

“Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again. With that being said, my full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media. They purposely leave out the part that matters.”

Congress reacts

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the president's comments were "a green light to Russia and other foreign powers that he welcomes their help in his re-election campaign. It's a dereliction of his duty as commander in chief, but comes as little surprise from a president who always puts his own self-interest ahead of the country."

The president's remarks put Republicans in a difficult position, with many choosing to refrain from commenting publicly. 

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told VOA, "I don't give the president public advice [on what to say]. Only in private."

FILE - Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 8, 2019.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy voiced his support for the president Thursday, saying, "I have watched the president, I have listened to this president, and he does not want a foreign government interfering in our elections." 

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called the president's comments "wrong and a mistake."

Graham added, "If a public official is approached by a foreign government and offered anything of value, the answer is no — whether it's money, opposition research."

FILE - Senator Lindsey Graham walks with a reporter on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 19, 2019..

Late Thursday, Senate Democrats asked unanimous consent to pass legislation requiring U.S. presidential campaigns to report to the FBI any offer of assistance from a foreign government.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn objected, saying the proposal was too broad and would mandate onerous reporting requirements for everyone involved in a campaign, from the candidate to grass-roots volunteers.

"No one wants foreign interference of any type," Blackburn said. "This is something that should be done in a thoughtful way, in a bipartisan way."

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner countered that the measure only would require campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance that already are prohibited under current law, not any and all incidental contacts with citizens of foreign nations.

"We're only having this discussion and debate because in a lot of ways, the rules of the game changed in 2016," Warner said. "Unfortunately, this White House and this president still don't seem to appreciate the seriousness of the threat."

2016 elections

During the 2016 campaign that brought Trump to power, his son Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who offered negative information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that contact should have been reported to the agency.

FILE - FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a hearing, on Capitol Hill, May 7, 2019.

"The FBI director is wrong," Trump said when reminded of Wray's statement.

In response to the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia operated a campaign to influence the 2016 elections to benefit Trump and damage Clinton, the FBI launched its own campaign to combat foreign influence and encouraged both election officials and campaign staff to report suspicious activity to the agency.

Wray has also warned in recent months that Russia poses what he called a "significant counterintelligence threat" to the United States and is likely to intensify its efforts ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election that will be held in November of next year.

During the campaign, Trump praised WikiLeaks, which released a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. At a campaign rally, he also urged Russia to find 30,000 emails Clinton had reportedly deleted from a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Trump later said he was joking, but special counsel Robert Mueller wrote in his report that Trump's comments resulted in Russian military intelligence officers targeting Clinton's personal office within hours.