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.
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.
Trump and his 2016 campaign have come under intense scrutiny — and a special counsel investigation — for their contacts with Russians during the last presidential election.
Special counsel Robert Mueller detailed extensive contact
between Trump campaign associates and Russians, but did not conclude there was a criminal conspiracy. The contacts included a now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower between his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a lawyer with close ties to the Kremlin in which potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton was on the table.
Only a month ago, Trump said he would “certainly agree to” a commitment not to use stolen information from foreign governments to damage a political rival.
“I don’t need it,” Trump said during a meeting with Hungary’s prime minister. “All I need is the opponents that I’m looking at.”
But asked Wednesday whether he would take opposition research being peddled by another government, Trump said he likely would.
“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.”
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.