“I think you might want to listen,” Trump said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Wednesday. “There isn’t anything wrong with listening.”
It was a stark — if not entirely surprising — expression of nonchalance from the President over foreign efforts to influence US politics. Trump has consistently downplayed Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 contest, and cast doubts on US intelligence agencies’ assessments of the meddling.
It’s a crime for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals.
In the interview, though, Trump seemed to suggest rebuffing foreign governments would be unwarranted — and unnecessary to report to federal law enforcement authorities.
That stance has put him at odds with national security professionals within his own administration. But Trump appeared unbothered by the discord in his interview, saying he would be open to any and all dirt on potential rivals.
“I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said, downplaying the idea such a move by another country would amount to election interference.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump erroneously claimed from the Oval Office that his campaign rejected overtures from Russia when offered derogatory information about his opponent in 2016. He asserted falsely that Mueller’s report “said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia; that we actually pushed them back — we rebuffed them.”
Still, Trump said he wouldn’t automatically report a foreign government’s actions to US law enforcement — something he says he’s never considered doing in his lifetime.
“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,” he said. “You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do.”
“Life doesn’t work that way,” Trump said.
That’s not the view taken by Trump’s FBI director, who told lawmakers during his confirmation hearings it would be “wise” for political operatives — including Trump’s son after his meeting at Trump Tower — to inform his agency about attempts by foreign governments to interfere in US elections.
Trump dismissed those concerns in his interview.
“The FBI director is wrong,” he said.
ABC News on Wednesday shared an exclusive interview between President Donald Trump and George Stephanopoulos. Naturally, the topic of the Russia probe came up and whether or not Don Trump Jr. should have gone to the FBI when he received an email from Russia saying they had opposition research for the Trump campaign.
“Should he [Trump Jr.] have gone to the FBI when he received that email?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Okay, 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?” Trump asked.
“If it’s coming from Russia you do,” Stephanopoulos replied.
“I’ve seen a lot of things in 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,” Trump explained. “You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you–”
“Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI,” Stephanopoulos said.
“Well, that’s different. That’s a stolen briefing book. This isn’t stolen,” Trump explained. “This is somebody that said, ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.
“The FBI director says it should happen that way,” Stephanopoulos said.
“The FBI director is wrong,” Trump replied.
Here’s where Stephanopoulos decided to play hypotheticals with Trump.
“Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump replied. “If somebody called from a country – Norway – ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.”
“You want that kind of interference in our elections?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong I’d go maybe to the FBI if I thought something was wrong,” Trump explained. “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. But you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they’ll all do it. They always have. And that’s just the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”