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'A hypothetical is different', Scalese says of Trump's comment about taking dirt from foreign governments

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 14, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

OLIVIER DOULIERY/ABACA PRESS/TNS

By ELIZABETH CRISP | The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. | Published: June 14, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise largely waved off the backlash that President Donald Trump has faced over remarks he made in an ABC News interview about taking dirt from foreign governments on his political opponents.

"I've been in many situations with him where how he responded to a hypothetical question was treated very differently when he actually had to deal with a specific problem," Scalise, R-Jefferson, said Thursday, just hours after ABC News released video of Trump's interview. "How you deal with it in a hypothetical is different because it's not real."

Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, has been a close ally of Trump and the two have frequently spoke fondly of each other.

In the interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Trump was asked whether he would accept damaging information about an opponent if offered by another country or would he call the FBI.

"I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," he said. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, (and said) 'we have information on your opponent' -- oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

"If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI," he continued. "But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. Oh, let's call the FBI. The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."

Scalise said he has never taken information about his political opponents from foreign entities.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said he would not personally accept assistance from foreign agents but pointed to Trump's suggestion that he might call the FBI after listening to the information.

"I heard the president say very clearly that he would do both: If he were approached by a foreign agent he would listen and if appropriate contact the FBI," Kennedy said. "There are exceptions to this, but most foreign agents who contact you, they don't walk into your office and say 'Hi. I'm a spy. Can I talk to you?' They conceal their identity."

"I would contact the FBI, if it's in the middle of a campaign, if I'm contacted by a spy from another country," Kennedy added.

The backlash has been swift. "What the president said shows clearly, once again, that he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Thursday. "There is not any ethical sense that informs his comments and his thinking."

"He has a habit of making appalling statements," she added.

Trump has faced increased scrutiny since Democrats took control of the U.S. House, with hearings continuing into the 2016 campaign and interference by the Russian government. Democrats, so far, have stopped short of launching impeachment hearings.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the lone Democrat in Louisiana's congressional delegation, condemned Trump's remarks.

"Now he admittedly welcomes help from foreign governments," Richmond, of New Orleans, said on Twitter. "You can't get any more morally bankrupt than this."

Trump defended his remarks Thursday morning via his favorite medium, Twitter.

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