President Trump violated his oath of office by saying he would consider accepting campaign help from foreign adversaries, the former head of the CIA and Department of Defense said Friday.
Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and then defense secretary under former President Barack Obama, made the accusation during a television appearance in response to Mr. Trump recently indicating a willingness to receive assistance from Russia or China without alerting the FBI.
“The president of the United States swears an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Mr. Panetta said on CNN.
“The law says that no one should receive any kind of benefit. Any candidate who receives a benefit from any foreign country is violating the laws of our country. That’s clear. It’s a violation of law. And for the president of the United States to say he would be willing to take that information and not have to call the FBI, I think represents a violation of the oath of office that this president took,” said Mr. Panetta.
Mr. Trump revealed in an interview Wednesday that he was open to receiving information involving his political opponents from foreign adversaries, igniting a firestorm after years spent distancing himself from the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election he won over former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Mr. Trump told ABC News. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong.”
Democrats and fellow Republicans alike have since criticized Mr. Trump over the comment, and the head of the Federal Election Commission issued a stern statement Thursday referencing his remarks.
“Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” said FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub.
Mr. Trump subsequently attempted to walk back his comments while appearing Friday morning on Fox News.
Russian government hackers interfered in the 2016 race compromising computers associated with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and stealing emails later leaked online, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Several members of Mr. Trump’s administration have since warned that Russians stand to meddle in next year’s White House race, including FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
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