CLAIM: The White House believes that it’s OK to take information from a foreign country in an election.
VERDICT: FALSE. The White House merely argued that it was not illegal or a campaign finance violation.
Democrats — and journalists — have been misstating Deputy White House Counsel Patrick Philbin’s reply to a question on Wednesday, the first day of questions and answers in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, as if he said that it was all right, and legal, for foreign countries to interfere in our elections.
Philbin had been asked specifically if foreign information would violate campaign finance law. (Note that if mere foreign information were illegal, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee would have violated the law for paying vast sums of money for a foreign spy, Christopher Steele, to compile “information” (later found to be false) from his foreign sources, including official sources in Russia.)
The Deputy White House counsel then noted that Congress had made some kind of foreign involvement in elections illegal, but not all.
(He could have added: how many non-U.S. citizens work on Democrats’ campaigns? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has a senior campaign staffer who is not even here legally.)
Philbin added: “there’s nothing wrong with listening.” He noted that the president had, in interviews, suggested that he might also approach the FBI after hearing the information, hypothetically, from abroad.
Deputy WH Counsel Patrick Philbin on if soliciting foreign info is a campaign finance violation:
"Mere information is not something that would violate the campaign finance laws … it's not campaign interference for credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light." pic.twitter.com/IyKkvvbFO7
— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) January 30, 2020
House manager Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) then claimed that the president’s counsel were saying it is “okay” to “seek or welcome foreign interference in our elections.”
Philbin was not asked about “foreign interference” in general, nor even about information from a foreign government. He was asked specifically about foreign information.
Nor did Philbin say say that it was “okay,” or that it wasn’t morally wrong. He was asked whether it was legal, and he said — correctly — that it was.
If it was not, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee would both be facing serious allegations of violating federal campaign finance laws.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.