Schiff introduces bill to strengthen law barring campaigns from accepting foreign dirt

Schiff introduces bill to strengthen law barring campaigns from accepting foreign dirt
© Greg Nash

A top House Democrat has introduced legislation designed to clarify and strengthen the federal law that bars political campaigns from accepting or receiving foreign assistance in an election.

The bill, spearheaded by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: Schiff presses intel chief on staff changes | Warren offers plan to secure elections | Twitter's Jack Dorsey to donate B to coronavirus fight | WhatsApp takes steps to counter virus misinformation Schiff calls on DNI Grenell to explain intelligence community changes READ: Schiff plans to investigate Trump firing intel watchdog MORE (D-Calif.), would amend the Federal Election Campaign Act to clarify that “information sought or obtained for political advantage” qualifies as a thing of value that a campaign is prohibited from soliciting, accepting or receiving from a foreign national.

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The legislation would also mandate that an individual who knowingly and willfully violates the statute would be subject to a fine or jail time up to five years, or both. And it requires the Federal Election Commission to notify political committees of the prohibition swiftly after their formation.

Schiff introduced the legislation on Thursday, one week after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE triggered widespread criticism for suggesting to ABC News that he would accept foreign dirt on his 2020 opponents and wouldn’t notify the FBI. 

Trump later walked back the remarks, saying he would notify the FBI if the information was “bad” but that he would still look at it. 

Schiff said Thursday that the legislation would “make it crystal clear that seeking or obtaining foreign assistance in the form of dirt on an opponent from a foreign power or foreign national is illegal.”

“Seeking foreign assistance in a political campaign is unethical, unpatriotic, and wrong - this bill will reinforce that it's also illegal,” Schiff said.

Schiff’s bill would require the Federal Election Commission to provide a political committee with a written explanation of the statute within 30 days of the committee filing its statement of organization. 

Any political committee would be required thereafter to certify to the commission that it received the explanation and provided copies of it to its members, also within 30 days. 

Schiff said his legislation is designed to complement legislation introduced by Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Democratic senator rips Navy head's 'completely inappropriate' speech on ousted carrier captain Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog MORE (D-Va.) and others that would require campaigns to report foreign interference. 

Warner introduced the proposal as an amendment to the annual defense policy legislation earlier this week.

Schiff said his legislation was drafted in response to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report.

In his more than 400-page report, Mueller wrote that he considered charging Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTrump jokes he'll 'look into' pardon for 'Tiger King' after asked by reporter at virus briefing Twitter says coronavirus disinformation spread by Chinese officials does not violate rules Former lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump administration MORE and others in connection with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that they arranged after being offered damaging information on Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe two infectious diseases spreading across America Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report Sanders exit leaves deep disappointment on left MORE. The participants say the meeting never bore fruit.

Mueller wrote that he decided against charging the participants with campaign-finance violations because of the high bar of proving they “knowingly and willfully” intended to break the law, and because of the difficulty of proving information offered constituted a “thing of value.”

In response to Schiff's introduction of the legislation, a Trump campaign spokesperson said: “Adam Schiff eagerly took a phone call from Russians promising dirt about President Trump. In congressional hearings Schiff repeatedly cited the discredited Steele dossier, which itself relied on sources close to the Kremlin. His hypocrisy is off the charts."