President Donald Trump’s allies have been privately critical after he told ABC News he’d consider accepting incriminating information about an opponent from a foreign government without calling the FBI, according to multiple sources.
Those who regularly defend the President and some who have worked in senior roles in his West Wing were incredulous Wednesday, cringing at the President’s remarks.
“It’s really bad. It’s really, really bad. He shouldn’t say it, and if he were to do it, it would be impeachable. If a President took information from a foreign government that would be impeachable,” a senior Republican source told CNN’s Jamie Gangel.
“This is different from the campaign. The difference is, he is the President now, so he knows better. If you are president you cannot say, bring me oppo research – if he does, that is impeachable,” the source said.
But one person close to the President said they were not surprised, because Trump was publicly saying things that he’s already said privately. This person described the comment as “classic Trump” – refusing to back down and admit a mistake.
Even though his campaign’s contacts with Russians have loomed over his presidency for years, Trump doesn’t view the Trump Tower meeting as an error, those people who have discussed the matter with him said.
While publicly some Republicans have pointed to the Steele dossier as a rebuttal, behind the scenes several admitted that the comments are problematic and unwise.
One former adviser said the President’s position needs to be corrected, but that is unlikely since on Thursday Trump defended his remark and equated it with the diplomatic meetings he holds with world leaders.
“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Whales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’” Trump tweeted, before later correcting his typo to say “Wales.”
“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.”
Trump has consistently downplayed Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 contest, and cast doubts on US intelligence agencies’ assessments of the meddling. In the ABC interview, Trump seemed to suggest that rebuffing foreign governments would be unwarranted – and unnecessary to report to federal law enforcement authorities.
That stance has put him at odds with national security professionals within his own administration, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, who once testified before Congress that the FBI would want to be informed about “any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any nonstate actor.”
“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump told ABC when asked about the statement.
CNN’s Jamie Gangel and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.