ABC’s George Stephanopoulos started it all by asking President Donald J. Trump a simple question.
Given the fact that a special counsel had just wrapped up a two-year investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, how would the president react if a foreign power were to offer him dirt on a political opponent? Would he talk to that foreign government, or would he call the FBI?
“I think maybe you do both,” the president said. “I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening. If someone called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Stephanopoulos gave the president a chance to clarify his response, asking if he was sure he’d want that kind of interference in an American election.
“It’s not an interference,” the president said. “They have information.”
Stephanopoulos pointed out FBI Director Christopher Wray’s assertion that a candidate presented with such an offer should contact the FBI.
“The FBI director is wrong,” the president said.
Critics were quick to pounce. Susan B. Glasser wrote a column for The New Yorker headlined, “Forget ‘no collusion’ - Trump is now pro-collusion.”
One of the president’s staunchest defenders, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, was succinct in his reaction.
“The law is pretty clear,” he said. “You can’t take anything of value from a foreign government.”
So was Ellen L. Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” she 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.”
And lest there be any confusion, she added this, “Any political campaign that receives an offer of a prohibited donation from a foreign source should report that offer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Of course, such assertions didn’t sway everyone. Take Fox News host Sean Hannity.
“Hillary Clintown literally empowered a foreign agent who produced a dossier full of Russian lies that was used to infiltrate our electoral process,” he said.
He was referring to the Steele dossier, a report assembled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy working for the American research firm Fusion GPS.
The website PolitiFact asked Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, about the comparison.
“Working hand in hand with a foreign power for information intended to influence an election is different from hiring a private firm that then hired somebody who had been a former intelligence agent,” she said. “Everybody does opposition research. The issue here is the foreign government.”
Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham had a different concern, wondering why the president’s staff ever scheduled that interview with Stephanopoulos.
“Putting him in that situation,” she said. “I don’t get it.”
Not surprisingly, the president had his own take on the controversy.
“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day, …” he said. “Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again.”
He also reminded us that he was actually the victim here.
“The fact is that the phony Witch Hunt is a giant scam where Democrats and other bad people, SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!” he tweeted. “They even had an ‘insurance policy’ just in case Crooked Hillary Clinton lost the race for the Presidency! This is the biggest & worst political scandal in the history of the United States of America. Sad!”
Ah, now we get it. It’s all Hillary’s fault.
Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI News Indiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.