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‘Nothing wrong’ with campaign accepting information from Russians, Giuliani says

  • President Donald Trump gives a 'thumbs-up' as he walks across the tarmac during his arrival on Air Force One, Sunday, April 21 2019 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • President Donald Trump leans in to listen to his supporters on the tarmac upon his arrival at Palm Beach International Airport, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in West Palm Beach, Fla. Trump traveled to Florida to spend the Easter weekend as his Mar-a-Lago estate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Published: 4/21/2019 11:27:19 PM
Modified: 4/21/2019 11:27:17 PM

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, said Sunday that there is “nothing wrong” with a campaign accepting information from Russians, defending the Trump team’s efforts to obtain damaging material about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” Giuliani said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union. “It depends on where it came from.”

His comments prompted a rebuke from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s not ok to seek Russian help in your campaign,” Schiff said in a tweet. “It’s not ok to use materials they stole from your opponent, or to make it part of your campaign strategy. Sadly, my GOP colleagues do think that’s ok. The American people know better.”

Giuliani was speaking three days after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. According to the report, Trump sought ways to turn leaks of stolen emails to his advantage during the campaign.

At a rally in July 2016, Trump expressed hope that Russia would find about 30,000 emails that Clinton had said she deleted because they were of a personal nature.

After that, “Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” Mueller’s team found.

The report also states that Trump repeatedly directed aides not to disclose emails about the now-famous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower attended by a Russian lawyer offering negative information about Clinton.

In Sunday’s interview, Giuliani told host Jake Tapper that “any candidate in the whole world” would accept negative information on an opponent.

Pressed by Tapper on whether that includes information “from a hostile foreign source,” Giuliani replied, “Who says it’s even illegal?”

Campaigns are not allowed to solicit or accept foreign contributions, which is defined as “anything of value” under campaign-finance laws and regulations. Federal campaigns can hire foreigners to conduct opposition research, as long as they pay a fair-market fee.

There is no explicit ban on opposition research provided free by foreigners to campaigns. But in his report, Mueller wrote that “candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution” that is prohibited under the ban on foreign contributions.

Despite finding that the opposition research could have been considered an illegal foreign contribution, Mueller decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges for other reasons. This has led to officials like Giuliani “offering a green light” for campaigns to accept in-kind contributions from foreign governments, which is “troubling,” said Richard Hasen, election law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

“In terms of good campaign practice, as soon as a campaign hears that a foreign government or a foreign entity wants to give help to the campaign, the appropriate thing to do is to go straight to the FBI and to decline that offer,” Hasen said.

Giuliani acknowledged during his interview Sunday that he probably would not have accepted information from Russians about an opponent during his own presidential campaign in 2008.

“I probably wouldn’t. I wasn’t asked,” he said.

Lanhee Chen, who was the policy director of the 2012 Romney presidential campaign, said the standard for whether campaigns should accept information from foreign sources should not just be about legality — but whether it is appropriate.

“I can tell you, pretty firmly, that we certainly would have been deeply suspicious, at the very least, of any information coming from a foreign source — let alone a Russian source,” Chen said. “If anyone in our campaign team had come across any foreign actor trying to provide information or influence our thinking, we certainly would have reported it to proper law enforcement right away. That’s how you generally handle these things,” Chen added.

The details contained in the Mueller report prompted an onslaught of criticism from Democrats. But Republicans largely either stayed quiet or defended Trump — with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who criticized the president and his campaign aides in a sharply worded statement posted Friday on Twitter.

“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Romney said.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee said he was “appalled” that associates of Trump’s campaign had “welcomed help from Russia,” and he called the report a “sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders.”

Romney’s reaction was far more critical than statements by some of his Republican colleagues, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

In a statement Friday, Portman said that he was “pleased” that the report was made public and that it “confirms several key facts consistent with the summary findings by Attorney General William Barr.” Portman said that although the report “documents a number of actions taken by the president or his associates that were inappropriate, the Special Counsel reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice.”

Collins expressed concern with Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller, as documented in the report, which she called “a very thorough undertaking.”

“He was not only very upset by the special counsel’s investigations, but tried several times through intermediaries to end it, and it is an unflattering portrayal of the president,” she said Friday in an interview with Maine Public Radio.

Asked about Romney’s criticism of Trump on Sunday, Utah’s senior Republican senator, Mike Lee, notably made no mention of the president in his initial reply, pivoting instead to criticize former President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.

“Well, first of all, I think Senator Romney has some credibility with regard to Russia,” Lee said on CBS News’s Face the Nation, pointing to Romney’s warnings about Russia during the 2012 presidential campaign. “Sadly, his warnings went unheeded. And under President Obama’s leadership over the next four years, Russia’s activities, its nefarious efforts to undermine our system, continued.”

Asked whether he agreed with Romney on Trump in light of Mueller’s findings, Lee said there was “nothing in this report that changes my view of this president.”

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