WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday reversed course over whether he would report foreign interference in a political campaign to U.S. law enforcement, telling Fox News in an interview he would “of course” contact authorities.
In a television interview with ABC News earlier this week, Trump had said he would be willing to listen to a foreign entity offering damaging information on a political opponent, saying “there isn’t anything wrong with it”.
He also told ABC he disagreed with FBI Director Christopher Wray’s position that political campaigns should report suspicious communications from foreign governments.
Those comments drew sharp criticism from Democratic lawmakers, who said Trump was giving Russia a green light to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.
A top Republican ally said Trump was wrong to say he would accept dirt on political rivals from foreign sources.
Trump changed his position on Friday.
“Of course, you have to look at it … but of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that,” Trump told Fox News. “You couldn’t have that happen with our country, and everybody understands that.”
“If I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated, I’d report it to the attorney general, the FBI. I’d report it to law enforcement, absolutely.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, countered Trump on Friday by releasing a video statement on Twitter pledging to not use misinformation in his campaign or tolerate outside interference.
Trump was “dead wrong,” Biden said. “I won’t be part of any attempt to undermine our democracy or public confidence in our institutions.”
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. was questioned by a Senate committee in a closed session on Wednesday about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York, in which a Russian lawyer offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton, the elder Trump’s Democratic opponent in the 2016 presidential election.
On learning the topic of the meeting, Trump Jr. had written in an email: “I love it.” But people who attended the meeting said later it focused on other matters.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller looked into that meeting as part of his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
He documented extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, and said Russia waged a hacking and influence campaign to help Trump defeat Clinton, but he did not establish that members of the campaign conspired with Moscow.
Reporting by Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and James Oliphant in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, James Dalgleish and Susan Thomsa