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 TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE to accept opposition research from a foreign country.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsKavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package Democrats criticize FBI's handling of tip line in Kavanaugh investigation 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.” 


“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 WarnerOn The Money: Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds | Trump tells Republicans to walk away | GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week 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.


Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate panel advances controversial public lands nominee in tie vote A plan to address the growing orphaned wells crisis Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' 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.


“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 StephanopoulosThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week Sunday shows - Jan. 6 investigation dominates Senate Republican 'not happy' with Pelosi plan to delay infrastructure vote 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 StabenowHere's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken Schumer: Democrats considering option to pay for all of infrastructure agenda Democrats closing in on deal to unlock massive infrastructure bill 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.