MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump is getting ready to kick off his reelection campaign next week on Tuesday. And in an interview with ABC News, he said he would be willing to accept political dirt on his Democratic rivals from a foreign source.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If somebody called from a country - Norway - we have information on your opponent - oh, I think I'd want to hear it.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections.
TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it.
KELLY: Then Trump went on to say he did not think he was under any obligation to tell law enforcement.
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TRUMP: This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent - oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.
TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
KELLY: Trump's remarks to Stephanopoulos are the latest in a series of statements and actions by the president and his top associates, none of which have escaped the notice of NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: What made the president's comments yesterday significant?
LIASSON: Well, they were stunning because he sounded like he was opening the door to foreign assistance, foreign intervention again. He described it as opposition research. But in 2016, it was in the form of hacked and stolen emails.
LIASSON: And this follows his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, saying, quote, "nothing - there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians." It follows his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, not being willing to commit to going to the FBI if they were approached again. And once again, what this means is that the intelligence community, who seems to be determined to prevent this kind of thing from happening in 2020, is once again completely at odds with the president of the United States.
And if Russia isn't getting the message, it's probably because they're not listening. You've got - this is happening just weeks after Bob Mueller released a report that detailed dozens of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians - not enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime, but it seems like his failure to charge anyone with a crime is being taken by the president as a green light to welcome that kind of influence again.
KELLY: Now, Democrats - to no one's surprise - have rushed to condemn the president's comments. What about Republicans?
LIASSON: Every Republican candidate is now going to be asked if they agree with the president about foreign influence. Already some people have rejected it. Lindsey Graham says of course that was the wrong answer. You should...
KELLY: The South Carolina senator.
LIASSON: South Carolina senator - very supportive of the president usually - said you should immediately go to the FBI. I reached out to the Trump campaign and asked about whether they had a policy about what happens if they come across information from a foreign actor. They wouldn't say whether they had one or not. Instead, they attacked Hillary and the Democrats for taking information from Russia in the form of the Steele dossier.
But just to be clear, Russia is not going to come knocking on the doors of campaigns and saying, here, we have something. They might try again to hack, steal information injected into social media themselves. But the sum of all these statements is inviting more foreign meddling.
KELLY: Is it inviting a reinvigorated conversation about impeachment?
LIASSON: Well, sure. I mean, Democrats say they were horrified. Democratic candidates called the president's comments unpatriotic, showed he thinks he's above the law. Some of them are calling on the House to begin impeachment hearings. That being said, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is sticking to her guns. She believes that impeachment - an impeachment process that does not end in removal by the Senate will only help the president and hurt Democrats. Democrats are trying to pass a law to require anyone who has a foreign contact to report it to the FBI, but that will go nowhere in the Senate.
KELLY: While I have got you, Mara, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders is leaving.
LIASSON: That's right. The president...
KELLY: Did we know that was coming?
LIASSON: No, we did not. The president tweeted - after 3 1/2 years, Sarah Sanders will be leaving at the end of the month. She's going home to Arkansas. He said that she would make a great governor of Arkansas and he hopes she decides to run for governor of Arkansas.
Of course, her father was the governor of Arkansas.
KELLY: And any idea who might be stepping into succeed her?
KELLY: No (laughter).
LIASSON: And then the second question is, what does it matter - because there are no press briefings. But in many ways, she was an able spokesman for the president. But he decided to be his own press secretary and communications director.
KELLY: All right, we shall watch that space. NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.