WASHINGTON – During the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) asked the Counsel for the President whether President Trump believes that foreign involvement in American elections is illegal.

“The President’s brief states, ‘Congress has forbidden foreigners’ involvement in American elections.’ However, in June 2019, President Trump said that if Russia or China offered information on his opponent, ‘[t]here’s nothing wrong with listening,’ and he might not alert the FBI because: ‘Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.’ Does President Trump agree with your statement that foreigners’ involvement in American elections is illegal?” Coons asked.

Senator Coons’ question quotes the President’s counsel’s brief from page 100, which cites the statute prohibiting solicitation of anything of value from a foreign national, directly or indirectly, in connection with an election (52 U.S.C. § 30121). As the President’s counsel is present in the Senate impeachment trial to represent the President, his answer to this question will have important implications for future elections and whether we should expect the President to seek or accept foreign help. 

On several occasions, President Trump has encouraged foreign interference in American elections:

In July 2016, President Trump, in response to a question about reports that Russia was behind the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee, said, “Russia if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Hillary Clinton’s private email server.  

In June 2019, President Trump said that if Russia or China offered information on his opponent, ‘[t]here’s nothing wrong with listening,” and that, “if somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ – oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” President Trump also stated that he might not alert the FBI because: “Give me a break.”

In July 2019, President Trump demanded, over the phone, that Ukrainian President Zelensky “do us a favor” by opening an investigation into President Trump’s leading political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.  

Russia is preparing to attack our 2020 elections, which has been confirmed by several members of President Trump’s own administration:

In January 2019, then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee: "We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate intelligence committee. "We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other's experiences and efforts."

In July 2019, FBI Director Chris Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections,” adding that “until they stop they haven’t been deterred enough.”

In July 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller told Congress: Russia is “doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.”