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Story highlights

Steve Israel: I chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Although we conducted opposition research, we never met with questionable sources.

The President is wrong when he says that most people would have taken that meeting, he writes

Editor’s Note: Former US Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, is chairman of the Global Institute at Long Island University and a CNN contributor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN Special Report “The First Son: The Life of Donald Trump Jr.” airs Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.

(CNN) —  

At Thursday’s press conference in Paris, President Trump said that “most people would’ve taken that meeting” with Natalia Veselnitskaya, described in bombshell emails released by Donald Trump Jr. as a “Russian government attorney” who was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

While some people might have taken that meeting, there are many who would have refused meetings that were far less consequential than one with someone purportedly acting on behalf of a hostile power trying to influence an election. (Veselnitskaya has denied that she is connected to the Kremlin.)

Steve Israel
Courtesy Steve Israel
Steve Israel

For four years, I chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. There’s no question that standard opposition research was a valid tool in our campaigns and in our opponent’s campaigns. But when that research raises troubling questions as to sources, methods and provenance, we were quite clear with our candidates: if you have received materials from a potentially unsavory source, immediately turn it over to the appropriate authorities.

I stressed this at candidate briefings and in conference calls. Mostly it came up when a candidate would report receiving some envelope with no return address, filled with innuendos and gossip.

One of the most recent and widely reported cases occurred in 2000, in an event that became known as “Debategate,” when the Gore campaign received a packet containing sensitive debate preparation materials apparently stolen from Texas Governor George Bush’s campaign. Former Congressman Tom Downey, who was helping Vice President Gore with debate prep and received the suspicious package at his Washington Office, didn’t say, as Donald Trump Jr. said, “I love it!”

He immediately delivered it to the FBI.

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One other thing on the very nature of opposition research – it is usually conducted by trained researchers using openly sourced and widely available materials: Lexis-Nexis searches, municipal records, etc. Not based on “dirt” offered by a foreign national connected with the government of a hostile power.

The President is wrong when he says that most people would have taken that meeting. Not anyone, sir. But certainly, your son, your campaign manager and your son-in-law.