Donald Trump – amid massive outrage and a public scolding by election officials – has reversed course and said he would report any information provided by a foreign country to the FBI. He insisted, however, he would have to read it to know whether it was “bad”.
Following widespread criticism and dismay after the president said he would accept foreign-sourced information if it could help his 2020 reelection bid, he said he thought he had made clear he would inform the authorities.
“Of course, you have to look at it…but of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that,” Mr Trump said, during a live phone interview with Fox News’s Fox and Friends, one of his favourite shows. “You couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that.”
He added: “If I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated, I’d report it to the attorney general, the FBI. I’d report it to law enforcement, absolutely.”
Earlier this week, in an interview with ABC News, the president said he would accept damaging information about an opponent if it was provided by a foreign nation – something in breach of election laws.
“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” he said.
“If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ – oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
He added: “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI – if I thought there was something wrong.”
On Thursday, the chair of the Federal Election Commission issued a rare public rebuke, apparently in response to the president’s comments, although without naming him.
“Let me make something 100 per cent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” Ellen Weintraub said on Twitter.
“It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.”
Earlier this year, special counsel Robert Mueller, completed a two-year investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Mr Mueller probe found no evidence of a conspiracy between Moscow and the president’s team, although he detailed numerous interactions. On the question of obstruction of justice, Mr Mueller was unable to exonerate the president.
Attorney general William Barr decided there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Trump.