The four candidates in the 24th Congressional District race — Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko and Democrats Dana Balter, Francis Conole and Roger Misso — agree that information from foreign sources shouldn't be used in political campaigns.
In interviews or statements provided to The Citizen, the candidates responded to President Donald Trump's comments during an interview with ABC News. Trump discussed his son, Donald Trump Jr., meeting with Russians to obtain potentially damaging information about the president's 2016 opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The meeting was arranged by a publicist who knew the Trumps and contacted Trump Jr. by email.
George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News anchor who interviewed President Trump, asked if his son should've reported the email to the FBI.
"Let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman. Somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent.' Do you call the FBI?" Trump responded. "I don't think — I'll tell you what. I've seen a lot of things over my life. I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI ... You don't call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office."
Stephanopoulos noted that a former campaign aide to Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, received briefing materials that appeared to be stolen from then-Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's campaign. The aide turned the information over to his attorney, who contacted the FBI.
Trump said his son's situation was different.
"This is somebody that said 'we have information on your opponent.' Oh, let me call the FBI," Trump said. "Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way."
Stephanopoulos reminded Trump that FBI Director Christopher Wray, whom Trump nominated in 2017 after firing James Comey, told Congress in May that if a country or someone representing a country contacted a campaign or elected official to influence an election, then "that's something the FBI would want to know about."
The FBI director, Trump said, "is wrong."
Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his campaign should accept an offer from China, Russia or another country for information about an opponent, or if they should report it to the FBI.
"I think maybe you do both," Trump said. "I think you might want to listen. There's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — 'we have information on your opponent.' Oh, I think I'd want to hear it."
"You want that kind of interference in our elections?" Stephanopoulos asked.
"It's not an interference," Trump answered. "They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go, maybe, to the FBI ... But when somebody comes up with (opposition research), they come up with oppo research, 'Oh, let's call the FBI.' The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. But you go and talk honestly to congressmen. They all do it. They always have and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."
Katko, R-Camillus, released a statement Thursday differing with Trump's claim that members of Congress accept such information from foreign countries.
While he didn't address other comments made by Trump, Katko said that he hasn't been offered and wouldn't accept information from a foreign source.
"I firmly believe any information offered by foreign intelligence to any candidate for public office, at any level of government, must be immediately turned over to the authorities," said Katko, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and a former federal prosecutor.
The three Democrats vying to challenge Katko in the 2020 elections — Balter, Conole and Misso — said they wouldn't accept information about their opponents from another country.
Conole and Misso are U.S. Navy veterans and served in intelligence roles during their careers. Conole described the president's comments as "outrageous and "completely unacceptable."
"I think it flies in the face of the values that I fought to protect," he said by phone Thursday. "Accepting information on our political opponents (from foreign countries) is a threat to our democracy. I served in the Intelligence Community at the Office of Naval Intelligence. If we had any foreign contacts with foreign officials, we'd have to report it immediately."
Misso told The Citizen that if he was approached by Russians or another country with information on Katko, he would report it to the FBI.
"That's got to be our go-to reaction any time something like that happens," he said. "We can't be about getting dirt on people in this selfish act of winning a political campaign. It has to be about doing the right thing."
He added in a statement that citizens and government officials must "uphold our oath — to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic."
Balter, who challenged Katko in 2018, accused Trump of giving the United States' adversaries "a green light" to interfere in the 2020 elections.
"It's horrifying behavior from our president," she wrote in an email to The Citizen. "It's clear the U.S. House needs to hold investigations into Trump's actions to check his worse impulses before he damages our country any more."
She also expressed disappointment with Katko for issuing a "weak statement" and not acting to hold Trump accountable.
Balter, Conole and Misso endorsed a proposal mentioned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her press briefing Thursday that would require candidates to contact law enforcement if foreign officials attempt to influence elections.
Pelosi said House Democrats plan to propose other security measures to prevent outside interference in elections.