By Peter Baker
New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack on Friday on accepting campaign help from Russia or other foreign governments, saying that he would certainly inform law enforcement authorities if he were approached.
Under fire for saying earlier in the week that “I’d take it” if hostile powers offered incriminating information about an election opponent — and that he would not necessarily call the FBI — Trump shifted by saying he would still look at the information, but would report such an encounter.
“I’d report it to the attorney general, the FBI,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends” in an interview Friday morning. “I’d report it to law enforcement, absolutely.”
The president’s comments came after more than a day of withering criticism from Democrats and uncomfortable distancing from Republicans who said any candidate should report a foreign effort to influence U.S. elections.
With his initial comments, Trump had put his relationship with Moscow back into the center of the debate in Washington over the future of the presidency after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reported that he could not establish any criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
He reopened the issue during an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News earlier in the week, when he scorned the notion that a candidate should call the FBI if approached by a foreign power with election help, as Trump’s own FBI director, Christopher S. Wray, has said should happen.
“I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life,” Trump told Stephanopoulos 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.” He later said that he might call the FBI, but only if he thought something wrong had been done. “I think maybe you do both,” he said.