Not even Republicans buy these defenses.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows there is actually a bipartisan consensus on the appropriateness of seeking information about a political opponent from a hostile foreign country. Fully 79 percent of Americans say it’s never acceptable, including 92 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans.
About 1 in 5 Republicans (19 percent) say it is acceptable to do such a thing, even though it is rather clearly against the law.
The question made no explicit reference to a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between senior Trump campaign members and Russians, or to Trump’s presidential campaign, which perhaps allows for a more unvarnished view of what should be allowed. But it does describe how the meeting was pitched.
Before that meeting, Donald Trump Jr. was offered dirt from a Russian lawyer who was described by the meeting’s conduit, Rob Goldstone, as being tied to the Russian government. Goldstone said the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” and said that the information came from Russia’s “crown prosecutor,” which isn’t an official office in Russian government but is roughly equivalent to attorney general in Goldstone’s native Britain. Trump Jr. and the White House have said none of the opposition research was valuable or used in the campaign.
Polling shortly after the Trump Tower meeting was revealed showed a clear majority of people believed it was wrong. Shortly after the meeting became public, Americans said 63 percent to 26 percent that the meeting was inappropriate, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Monmouth University later put the split at 59-31 against the meeting. And a CNN poll showed Americans said 57-23 that Trump Jr. shouldn’t have accepted it.
It’s possible that the new poll may overstate the percentage of Republicans who think the Trump Tower meeting would have been wrong if information was actually transmitted and used. The question requires Russia to be viewed as a “hostile foreign power,” which is a premise many Republicans reject. A recent Gallup poll showed that 40 percent of them actually view Russia as an “ally” (6 percent) or “friendly” (34 percent). This is not the conclusion of foreign policy expects, though, nor is it the position of most Republicans in Congress, who have pushed to sanction Russia.
And broadly speaking, the new poll does show that Americans and even Republicans think this is not an arrangement that is inherently benign, as Trump has presented it. Nor do they think collusion isn’t a crime.