WASHINGTON – More than a dozen 2020 Democratic presidential candidates rebuked President Donald Trump on Wednesday night after he said he would consider taking information on his political challengers from a foreign government. Many renewed calls for impeachment, further raising the profile of a highly charged and divisive cause, while also voicing new concerns about the security of American elections.
In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he would not only consider “listening” to what he described as “oppo research” from foreign sources but added that he also might not alert the FBI.
“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump said. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
Trump also argued that these types of interactions shouldn’t be characterized as “interference.”
“It’s not an interference, they have information – I think I’d take it,” he said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.”
By early Thursday, the president’s comments had drawn fierce backlash from at least 15 candidates running for the Democratic nomination. In the wake of the report on Russian interference in the 2016 election by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, many said that Trump’s statements to ABC News reaffirmed their beliefs that he is unfit to hold office.
In the interview’s aftermath, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, were among those arguing that Trump’s words were more reason to begin impeachment proceedings. Warren was the first Democratic presidential candidate to voice support for impeachment back in April, and Gillibrand, Sanders and O’Rourke have since espoused similar sentiments.
Citing the Mueller report, Warren tweeted, “A foreign government attacked our 2016 elections to support Trump, Trump welcomed that help, and Trump obstructed the investigation.” (In his report, Mueller declined to make a determination about whether Trump obstructed justice.)
“Now, he said he’d do it all over again,” she wrote. “It’s time to impeach Donald Trump.”
In an appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Sanders said he was “not exactly shocked” by Trump’s interview. He maintained that “the American people need to understand what this president has done, his contempt for the law.”
“We have a president that neither understands the Constitution of the United States or respects the Constitution,” Sanders said, describing Trump as “somebody who does not believe in the separation of powers and somebody who thinks he’s above the law.”
On Twitter, O’Rourke wrote that Trump’s view on foreign help in elections “threatens the very core of our democracy.”
“If we are to secure justice and ensure this never happens again, we must impeach him,” he tweeted.
Other Democratic candidates accused Trump of undermining the integrity of the election system and threatening national security.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., denounced Trump for, as Biden put it, “once again welcoming foreign interference in our elections.”
“The 2020 elections are not secure,” Klobuchar tweeted. “Disgraceful.”
In an interview on MSNBC, Harris called Trump’s statements “outrageous.”
“It just tells me that the guy doesn’t understand the job and can’t do it very well,” she said, adding that Trump was again “putting his self-interest in front of the interests of our democracy and the integrity of our democracy and the American people’s confidence in the security and integrity of our election system.”
Speaking with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Bennet ripped Trump as “weak and pathetic.”
“He’s a cheater,” Bennet said. “He doesn’t care how he wins as long as he does win and I think more important than that, he doesn’t care what’s happening in the average lives of Americans or what’s happening to America’s place in the world, which is a real tragedy.”
Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., took issue with Trump saying that all congressmen have always taken part in “oppo research.”
“This is sad and cynical,” Ryan tweeted. “To think every politician would accept research from a sworn enemy shows how demented and amoral this President is.”
Wednesday’s interview also prompted blistering remarks from several top Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
As the question of whether to begin the impeachment process continues to divide the House, Democrats, much to Trump’s frustration, have forged ahead with a number of investigations into his actions as president, his personal finances and his administration’s policies. But despite the probes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has repeatedly tamped down calls for impeachment, saying last week that she would rather see Trump “in prison.” Pelosi has not publicly addressed the ABC News segment.
Trump, however, appeared unfazed by the intense blowback.
Rather than lashing out at his detractors on Twitter, on Wednesday night the president took time to watch Fox News and to correct a typo in a tweet sent from the official account of “Cuomo Prime Time.”