clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

House Democrats want to make accepting dirt on campaign opponents from foreign governments a crime

Democrats are rolling out a new package of election security bills after Trump said he’s open to taking dirt on his 2020 opponents.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Weekly Press Conference
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference at the US Capitol on Thursday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Democrats are rolling out a new package of bills that, among other things, would make it a crime for President Donald Trump to accept damaging information about his 2020 Democratic opponents from foreign actors, after Trump said Wednesday he would be open to doing just that.

“I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos when asked whether he’d report foreign governments offering dirt to the FBI. “It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it.”

As Trump tried to walk back his comments in a long series of Thursday tweets, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Democrats would soon roll out a “duty to report” bill that would require any campaign that either solicits or receives an offer of opposition research or “dirt” on an opponent from a foreign country to report it to the FBI.

There’s also a separate bill to put new teeth into existing campaign finance law to enforce this. Here’s how that bill would work: It would include opposition research as a thing of value in the existing foreign contribution ban already in campaign finance law. The bill would essentially clarify existing law to say that opposition research or other negative information related to a campaign solicited from or donated by a foreign government does not need to have money attached to it to make a “thing of value.” It would still fall into the foreign contribution ban that’s part of current US campaign finance law.

This could have made a difference in a major part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller ultimately did not charge Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials for their infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton precisely because he couldn’t determine if money changed hands, or the information had monetary value attached. If the law was updated, Mueller and others may be able to pursue charges for similar actions in the future.

During her Thursday press conference, Pelosi blasted the president for his comments.

“Yesterday the president again gave us evidence he does not know right from wrong,” the speaker said of Trump. “If [the law] needs more clarity, then we will go the duty to report. You don’t accept it; you report it to the FBI. This is an invasion of our democracy.”

Democrats have been working on this bill for a month, as part of a larger package of election security reforms to fix legal holes exposed by the Mueller investigation. But Trump’s comments on ABC spurred them to announce it immediately.

“It’s very urgent here, especially in light of the president’s comments last night,” a House Democratic aide told Vox. “He’s just adding fire to why we need to move on it quickly. The man is just admitting he’s going to break laws.”

Democrats are hoping to vote on this package of bills, which also includes a bill to make states back up their electronic voting systems with paper ballots, before the August recess.

Of course, Democrats’ latest bill may not amount to more than a messaging bill if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not take it up. A bipartisan group of senators has been pushing an election security bill but have run into opposition from McConnell and Republican leaders.

Senators are expected to have an election security briefing soon, and Democrats in the House hope it will spur further action in the upper chamber.