President Trump now says he would alert the FBI if a foreign power offered him dirt on a political opponent.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Will he or won’t he? No, not another Democrat considering whether to run for president. Will President Trump tell the FBI if a foreign power offers dirt on a political opponent? This week he said he wouldn’t – then said, of course, he would. Let’s bring in NPR’s senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: A stunning moment in – I think it’s safe to say – a presidency that is no stranger to stunning moments. George Stephanopoulos, ABC, interviewed the president in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think…
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If it’s coming from Russia, you do.
TRUMP: I’ll you what – I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI – in my whole life. I don’t – you don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out…
SIMON: You don’t call the FBI. Now, Ron, I don’t want to avoid the obvious – he’s not alerting the FBI about attempts by a foreign adversary to spread dirt about a political opponent – a crime, violation of the oath of office or just bad citizenship?
ELVING: It’s a lot more than just bad citizenship, Scott. The head of the FBI says a candidate must make such a contact known. The head of the Federal Election Commission says, quote, “It is illegal for a person to accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” unquote. And now that commission chair, Ellen Weintraub, also added she would not have thought she needed to say this.
SIMON: There were a few tut-tuts from a few Republicans, but no widespread condemnation of the president’s remarks. Senator McConnell suggested, again, Democrats just can’t accept the results of the 2016 election. He said, quote, “They just can’t let it go.”
ELVING: It’s not just the Democrats keeping 2016 alive. Foreign interference has been a concern in our elections as – back to the founding of the republic itself. But the person who’s keeping it on Page 1 right now is the president. This should have been an easy question – do you take the dirt or do you report it? He got both parts of that question wrong, before he backtracked a couple of days later on the second part.
SIMON: As we mentioned at the top, no new entrants to the Democratic presidential primary. There’s almost nobody left to declare. There may not be enough room. But we do have a lineup for the debates coming later this month.
ELVING: We do. And by luck of the draw, four of the five candidates who have done best in early polling wound up on the same night – the second night, June 27. That should give Elizabeth Warren a good shot at dominating the first night, Wednesday, June 26. Although, she will be on stage with Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, all of whom could break out in the debate, despite having performed somewhat below expectations up to now.
But most of the leading names will be on the following night, so Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will battle it out and try to keep people from being too distracted by Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, who will be introducing themselves to much of the national audience all at the same time.
SIMON: A passel of polls out, Ron. And we report them; they help us cover issues, reflect what a lot of Americans are thinking. As you look at some of the polls that are out right now, how useful are they for forecasting an election? Should we even worry about that part of it?
ELVING: No one should be predicting the outcome of a presidential race 18 months in advance or even, for that matter, predicting who’s going to get the nomination – not on the basis of polls, not on any other basis at this point. But polls do tell us something; the independent polls do. They tell us what Trump’s own polls told him back in March, that despite the great economic numbers, the president is polling way below where an incumbent should be at this stage.
SIMON: And what do you make of that?
ELVING: This is an indication that people do separate their approval for the president’s economic performance, or at least for the performance of the economy during his presidency, from their feelings about him. And we see why in all of these stories that dominate the news day after day.
SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you. And Scott, may I add on this weekend, a big thanks to your daughters and my daughter for letting us be their dads.
SIMON: (Laughter) Oh, my gosh. You’ve got me tearing (ph). Thank you.
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