President Donald Trump on Friday tried again to rectify the mess he made by saying he would likely accept dirt on a political opponent from a foreign entity, going on “Fox & Friends” to clean up the comments.
Trump insisted during a meandering 50-minute interview on the network that “of course” he would alert the FBI in such a case, but only after reviewing it first, “because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad.”
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The president has moved into damage control mode after an interview he gave with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos this week in which he scoffed at the notion of reporting revelations of damaging information from a foreign source to U.S. authorities.
“It’s not an interference, 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.”
“It’s called oppo research,” he added.
Remarkably, Trump also asserted on Friday that he didn’t foresee that issue arising. “I don’t think anybody would present me with anything because they know how much I love the country,” he said, despite well-documented attempts by Russian nationals to do just that during the 2016 election.
“Nobody’s gonna present me with anything bad, and No. 2, if I was — and of course, you have to look at it, because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad, but, of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to attorney general or somebody like that,” he argued. “But of course you do that — you couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that and I thought it was made clear.”
Even so, he contended, as a president who frequently meets with foreign leaders, he questioned whether he would need to report every negative thing uttered behind closed doors to U.S. authorities, citing his recent meetings with the leaders of the U.K., Ireland and France — all U.S. allies.
His clean-up attempts received mixed responses from the three “Fox & Friends” co-hosts, who often function as cheerleaders for the president. While Ainsley Earhardt appeared to accept the president’s explanation, Brain Kilmeade pushed back some on Trump’s argument.
“Mr. President, I think that’s a good point, but what if a leader leaned over and just said, listen, X candidate that you’re running against he did dicey things in XYZ country, and I’ve got some proof of it — what do you do in that scenario, do you back off, do you say I don’t need it, do you say show it to me?” he asked.
“Like I said Brian, the president of the United States no matter who it is whether it’s me or anybody else is in a much different position because I hear things that frankly, good, bad or indifferent that other people don’t hear, just a normal conversation,” Trump responded, before returning to his initial point. “But nobody is going to say bad things to me, they know that I’m a very straight player. They know one thing about me: I love the country more than anything.”
Trump’s claims that he would not be a prime recipient of foreign dirt not only contradicts his comments earlier in the week, but the actions of his 2016 campaign and himself more recently.
While running for president, his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower because they were promised damaging information on Trump’s then-opponent Hillary Clinton. The meeting, which Trump later helped craft a misleading statement defending, was a key event investigated by former special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of Russia’s election interference.
Also in 2016, Trump appeared to encourage Russia to hack Clinton’s personal email server during a news conference, a suggestion Mueller’s investigators found Moscow did attempt to act on.
More recently, Trump cheered on his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani over his plans to meet with leaders in the Ukraine to encourage investigations there involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son — plans Giuliani canceled after allegations of meddling.
The president also insisted that he had “a lot of support” over the last few days, despite his comments being nearly universally condemned by his allies and opponents alike.
His comments to ABC also prompted backlash from the federal government. After Trump called his FBI director “wrong” for saying that candidates for office should report foreign offers of assistance, and one of Trump’s allies suggested there was a “mistake of law,” the head of the Federal Election Commission chimed in with her assessment.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: 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,“ Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub wrote. “This is not a novel concept.”