President Donald Trump said that there would be nothing wrong with accepting incriminating information about an election opponent from Russia or other foreign governments and that he saw no reason to call the FBI if it were to happen again.
"It's not an interference," he said in an interview with ABC News, describing it as "opposition research." "They have information — I think I'd take it." He would call the FBI only "if I thought there was something wrong."
His comments put him at odds not only with Democratic candidates who have made a point of forswearing help from foreign governments as they seek their party's nomination to challenge him but also with his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, who has said politicians in such circumstances should call his agency.
"I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI. In my whole life," Trump said dismissively. "You don't call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do." He added, "Give me a break — life doesn't work that way."
When the interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, noted that the FBI director had said a candidate should call, Trump snapped, "The FBI director is wrong."
The president's remarks came on the same day that his son Donald Trump Jr. appeared on Capitol Hill to answer questions from lawmakers. During the 2016 campaign, the younger Trump — along with Jared Kushner, the future president's son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, then his campaign chairman — met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer after being told she would have "dirt" on Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
The president has previously defended the decision to take the meeting on the grounds that any campaign would listen to opposition research, even from a foreign adversary. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, concluded in his recent report that Russia made a concerted effort to help Trump get elected and that Trump's campaign benefited from it, but he established no illegal conspiracy between the two.
Trump has sought to characterise Mueller's report as complete exoneration. He took it a step further Wednesday during an earlier meeting with reporters when he claimed that Mueller's report actually said that "we rebuffed them" when the Russians tried to help.
Trump's lawyer did not respond to a request asking what the president was referring to. In actuality, Mueller's report documented numerous contacts between Trump's campaign and Russian figures throughout the 2016 campaign.
In testimony to Congress last month, Wray, who was appointed by Trump, said campaigns should report it if they hear from foreign governments. "I think my view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that's something that the FBI would want to know about," Wray said.
When pressed during the interview, Trump allowed that maybe he would call the FBI but only after listening to the incriminating information first. "I think maybe you do both," he said, adding: "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."
His answer mirrored one given recently by Kushner, who said he was not sure he would call the FBI if a foreign government again offered damaging information about an opponent. "I don't know," he said in an interview with Axios, an online news organization. "It's hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious."
It was the second time in recent weeks that Trump had publicly chided Wray. After the FBI director rejected the word "spying" to describe the bureau's investigation of contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, Trump lashed out. "I thought it was a ridiculous answer," Trump said last month.
Trump on Wednesday also disputed an article in The New York Times reporting that his internal polling showed him trailing Democrats in key states. "We are winning in every single state that we polled," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "We're winning in Texas very big, we're winning in Ohio very big. We're winning in Florida very big."
Trump's claim to Stephanopoulos that he never in his life called the FBI conflicts with past reports. In 2017, BuzzFeed reported on an 1981 FBI memo that described how Trump, as a real estate developer, contacted the bureau about a casino he was considering opening in Atlantic City. He offered to "fully cooperate" with the bureau and suggested that FBI agents work undercover in the casino to root out any mafia elements.
Written by: Peter Baker
Photographs by: Doug Mills
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