President Trump on Friday attempted to clarify his stunning assertion that he would accept damaging information against his political rivals from foreign governments without necessarily alerting the FBI.
In an interview with “Fox & Friends,” Trump said he would “absolutely” notify federal law enforcement if a foreign power presented his campaign with “incorrect or badly stated” information about an opponent. But the president also defended his willingness to receive it.
“If you don’t hear what it is, you don’t know what it is,” Trump said.
He didn’t specify what he would do if he received correct information.
If the information was bad, he said, “of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”
The president also said he didn’t think a foreign power would try to give him such information.
“I don’t think anybody would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country,” Trump said.
It is illegal for a campaign to accept a contribution from a foreign national or government, a principle that many legal scholars say covers not just financial donations but intangibles such as information on an opponent.
Trump stirred the controversy in an Oval Office interview on Wednesday when he was asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos what he would do if foreign governments offered him damaging information about an opponent in the upcoming presidential race.
“They have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘Oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it.”
Trump also claimed that receiving such information from foreign governments is common in Congress.
“When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is,” the president said. “It’s called oppo research.”
The ABC interview was conducted on the day his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., met with lawmakers for a second time about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting he attended with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. did not alert the FBI.
“Somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump said. “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. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do. ... Oh, give me a break — life doesn’t work that way.”
The comments were criticized by members of both parties, including Democrats looking to unseat Trump in 2020, and even drew a rebuke from the head of the Federal Elections Commission.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” Ellen Weintraub, the FEC chair, said in a statement. “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”
I would not have thought that I needed to say this. pic.twitter.com/T743CsXq79— Ellen L Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) June 13, 2019
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