WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared to backtrack Friday by saying that while he would look at information about a political opponent from a foreign government, he would, after all, report it to law enforcement.
Trump shifted his stance a day after he described such information as “opposition research” and said that “I’d take it” and that “you don’t call the FBI” — igniting criticism from Democrats and some Republicans.
But in a wide-ranging, nearly hourlong phone interview on “Fox & Friends” on his 73rd birthday Friday morning, Trump sought to quell the reaction after lawmakers from both parties said any candidate should report when a foreign country sought to interfere in a U.S. election
"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,” Trump said.
In that interview, Trump also said he would not fire Kellyanne Conway for violations of the Hatch Act and declined to commit to endorsing Vice President Mike Pence if he runs for president in 2024.
Later, top White House officials and staff sang "Happy Birthday" to Trump in the Rose Garden, where he spoke about a new policy that expands options for employers to use special tax-free accounts to help workers buy their own health insurance.
In a one-on-one interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that aired earlier this week, Trump disputed former White House counsel Don McGahn’s testimony that Trump told him to remove special counsel Robert Mueller. “I never suggested firing Mueller,” Trump said.
Trump, in his Fox & Friends interview, modified his admission to Stephanopoulos that he would again accept information for a foreign power, as his son and top campaign officials did in meeting in June 2016 with Russians to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Trump told Stephanopoulos on Wednesday that he would listen to information from foreign governments, saying that "there isn't anything wrong with listening."
He rebuffed FBI Director Chris Wray for saying the FBI would want candidates to tell it if that happens. "The FBI director is wrong, because frankly it doesn't happen like that in life," Trump said.
But on Fox & Friends on Friday, Trump said that while he would listen to or look at information from foreign governments, he would report “bad” information.
“Of course you have to look at it because if you don't look at it you're not going to know if it's bad,” Trump said. “Of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”
Trump also said Friday he would not fire Conway, his counselor, a day after U.S. Office of Special Counsel Henry Kerner recommended that he remove her for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees for engaging in political activities on the job.
“I’m not going to fire her. I think she’s a terrific person. She’s a tremendous spokesperson,” Trump said. “It looks to me like they’re trying to take away her right of free speech.”
Kerner, a longtime Republican appointed by Trump, told Fox News, “We respect his decision and, of course, the president has any option he’d like — to reprimand or not to reprimand.”
In the interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump said McGahn "may have been confused" when he told Mueller that Trump instructed him several times to have the acting attorney general remove the special counsel because of perceived conflicts of interest.
"The story on that very simply, No. 1, I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller," Trump said, disputing McGahn’s sworn testimony to Mueller. "I don't care what he says, it doesn't matter."
Asked why McGahn would lie, Trump said, "Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer,” or that he believed Trump’s allegation that Mueller had a conflict of interest — a claim White House lawyers and strategist Steve Bannon dismissed as baseless.