After four years of Trump in politics, it takes a pretty outrageous statement to feel like a real violation of norms. But the president can still deliver: In an interview with ABC News, Trump told George Stephanopoulos that if a foreign government came to him with dirt on his political opponents in the coming election, he would accept it.
Though the interview might be his most startling comment on the topic since the “Russia, if you’re listening” speech, the president has previously defended his son’s decision to go forward with the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. “I think from a practical standpoint most people would’ve taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even research into your opponent,” Trump said in July 2017, when reports of Trump Jr.’s involvement first broke.
Though this belief appears to be ingrained in the president’s mind, the FBI director sees the matter differently. In testimony to Congress last month, Christopher Wray contradicted Trump, saying that “my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that’s something that the F.B.I. would want to know about.”
Upon the interview’s publication, Democrats immediately jumped to condemn the president’s open hostility toward the rule of law. In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Bernie Sanders said that he was “not exactly shocked. I think we have a president who neither understands the Constitution of the United States or respects the Constitution. Somebody that does not believe in the separation of powers and somebody who thinks he’s above the law. I mean, that is why I believe the House should begin impeachment inquiries on Trump. So, no, I’m not shocked.”
Trump, a longtime proponent of omertàs when they are convenient for him, claims that in his “whole life” he never “called the FBI.” But, as BuzzFeed reported in 2017, Trump contacted the FBI in 1981, offering to “fully cooperate” with the bureau as he was considering opening a casino in Atlantic City, going so far as to suggest that agents work undercover on his property to find possible mafia members. It seems that only when the integrity of American elections is at stake does Trump rule out cooperation.