It’s no surprise that Donald Trump admitted this week that he would be willing to take foreign intelligence from the Russians ... again. What started with, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” has morphed into a full blown invitation for foreign adversaries to tamper with our elections to his benefit. But the president’s willingness to extend his ear to an insidious foreign dictator who wants nothing more than the downfall of Western democracy is not “called oppo research.”
It’s called illegal.
I know better than most what opposition research is, and it’s most certainly not this. That’s because for the past three years, I've run the largest opposition research effort focused on Trump in the Democratic Party at American Bridge 21st Century. Our work digs deep. On a daily basis, we scrutinize Trump’s public records and financial returns and scour through decades-old public remarks. We use our information to weave the story of a lifelong pattern of corruption and deceit by Trump and his family to build their personal wealth.
But even in our hyperpartisan operation, we have rules that we enforce rigorously. Our information is never stolen. It’s lawfully obtained. It’s always public record. And it’s most certainly never solicited from foreign governments.
How to defend an election:Sen. Warner: Trump and Russia threatened our democracy. What are we going to do about it?
In reality, opposition researchers operate like trial attorneys. We make the case against Republicans up and down the ballot by stockpiling months, years and often decades worth of public evidence against them. We submit Freedom of Information Act requests to unearth spreadsheets of Cabinet members creepily detailing the pregnancy status of immigrant teens who are seeking an abortion. We scour the Federal Procurement Data System to discover that Trump's former Interior secretary spent $139,000 on doors. Or in many cases, we just go through Twitter.
All of these tools help us build the case for the American people against the chronic Republican wrongdoing that we believe is plaguing our country.
But even in this, at American Bridge, we know better than to unlawfully solicit “dirt” from foreign actors, or encourage them to wage cyberwarfare and hack into their email accounts. We don’t “ping” Julian Assange begging for those Republican emails. And we certainly don’t respond to messages from foreign lawyers connected to the highest ranks of the Kremlin, offering illicit information on Republicans, with “I love it.”
In the Mueller report, we saw detailed evidence of over 272 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian-linked operatives, and a series of efforts by the two organizations to coordinate and conspire against America.
That’s not opposition research.
If real opposition researchers ever conducted themselves in the same manner as the president, they wouldn’t still be sitting behind their desks. They’d likely be in prison. That reality just further proves my point: What Trump is describing is not opposition research, rather it’s likely criminal behavior.
Patrick Dennis is the Trump War Room Research Director at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC specializing in opposition research. He is a veteran of Democratic campaigns on the local, state and national levels. Follow him on Twitter: @patdennis
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump calls foreign intelligence 'oppo research.' I call it illegal, and I should know.