WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump shifted gears Friday on election interference, saying “of course” he would go to the FBI or the attorney general if a foreign power offered him dirt about an opponent.
Trump's new stance was a walk back – to a degree – after he set off a Washington firestorm earlier in the week by asserting he would not necessarily contact law enforcement if offered damaging material from an overseas source.
But in his latest comments, the president still said he would look at the proffered information to see whether it was “incorrect.”
“Of course, you have to look at it,” Trump said during a birthday appearance on “Fox and Friends.” He added: “But of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that. You couldn't have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that.”
That was a step back from his comments to ABC days earlier.
“OK, 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? You don't,” Trump said in an interview that aired Wednesday. “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.”
His assertion that he would be open to accepting a foreign power's help in his 2020 campaign alarmed Democrats, who condemned it as a call for further election interference while Republicans struggled to defend his comments.
Asked by ABC News what he would do if Russia or another country offered him dirt on his election opponent, Trump said: “I think I'd want to hear it.” He added that he'd have no obligation to call the FBI. “There's nothing wrong with listening.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller painstakingly documented Russian efforts to boost Trump's campaign and undermine that of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
In a segment released Friday from the president's interview earlier this week, Trump told ABC that “it doesn't matter” what former White House counsel Don McGahn told investigators and that McGahn may have been confused when he told prosecutors he had been instructed to seek Mueller's removal.