Democrats outraged over White House lawyer's claim that some foreign involvement in elections is acceptable

Senate Democrats, including the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, voiced outrage Wednesday night after White House deputy council Patrick Philbin argued that it would be legal for President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House panel votes to constrain Afghan drawdown, ask for assessment on 'incentives' to attack US troops MORE to accept opposition research from a foreign country.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsHillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Democrats, voting rights groups pressure Senate to approve mail-in voting resources To safeguard our elections, Democrats and Republicans must work together MORE (D-Del.), toward the end of Wednesday's marathon question and answer session in the Senate impeachment trial, asked Trump’s defense team if such an action would be legal.

Philbin argued “the idea that any information that happens to come from overseas is necessarily campaign interference is a mistake.” 

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“That’s non sequitur,” he added. “Information that is credible that potentially shows wrongdoing by someone who happens to be running for office, if it’s credible information, is relevant information for the voters to know about.”

That answer sparked outrage among Democrats.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Overnight Defense: Democrats blast Trump handling of Russian bounty intel | Pentagon leaders set for House hearing July 9 | Trump moves forward with plan for Germany drawdown MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has been conducting a multiyear investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said Philbin’s argument “contradicts everything that our committee has said, everything the intelligence community has worked on.” 

“If Mr. Philbin’s argument is accepted at face value that foreign interference is OK unless it violates some nondefined definition of a campaign contribution [is] counter to everything that the intelligence community, our committee and I think others are working on,” Warner said.

“I’m pretty stunned,” he added.

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Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Navy won't reinstate fired captain | Dems probe use of federal officers in DC | Air Force appoints woman as top noncommissioned officer Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests During a time of uncertainty, Great American Outdoors Act deserves our support MORE (D-N.M.), another member of the Intelligence Committee, said “I have never heard anyone represent anything close to that in the intelligence community ever.”

“We are encouraged to at all times report even just contact with foreign efforts at interference in our elections or of manipulation of our government activities,” he said.

“This idea that you would take information from a foreign government seeking to impact an election and then weaponize that or use that just because it may be credible — I’ve just never heard anything like that. I think it’s absolutely unconscionable,” he added.

Heinrich said Philbin’s argument could impact how the American public views Trump’s legal team because “this is so counter to common sense for the average American.”

He said the nation has historically done whatever it could to insulate government decisionmaking and elections from foreign influence.

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“This basically said throw open the doors,” he said of the White House’s argument.

Trump famously told ABC News chief anchor George StephanopoulosGeorge Robert StephanopoulosPelosi: Nationwide mask mandate 'definitely long overdue' ABC News to air Bolton interview shortly before White House memoir release GOP senator says it's time to stop naming military bases after Confederate generals MORE in July that he would likely accept information provided by a foreign government by a political opponent.

“It’s not interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.”

Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Democrats warn Biden against releasing SCOTUS list Sheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary MORE (Mich.), a member of the Democratic leadership team, said “when they doubled down on the fact that it’s alright for the White House, the president of the United States to get dirt on his opponent from another country” because it’s not illegal, “it’s not OK.”

“It’s not legal,” she said.