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Trump downplays explosive statement that he’d accept foreign help in 2020

“My full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media,” President Donald Trump said Thursday, suggesting that some of his recent comments were being taken out of context. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Thursday sought to downplay his explosive assertion that he might not report to the FBI any offers of election help from a foreign entity, drawing a misleading comparison between such an intrusion and his recent conversations with Queen Elizabeth and other world leaders.

“I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (U.K.), the Prince of Wales, the P.M. of the United Kingdom, the P.M. of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland. We talked about ‘Everything!’” Trump wrote on Twitter across a pair of tweets, correcting an initial misspelling of Wales. “Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again.”

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Every president regularly communicates with other heads of state. Accepting negative information from a foreign agent about a campaign opponent is a different matter, however. It is a crime for a campaign to solicit or accept something of value from a foreign entity, which some lawyers say could apply to information.

ABC News released a clip Wednesday night from an interview Trump gave to George Stephanopoulos this week. When asked whether a candidate should report information on an opponent if it came from a foreign agent, Trump scoffed, arguing, “It’s called oppo research.”

“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.”

He also said FBI Director Christopher Wray was “wrong” for saying that candidates should report efforts by foreign agents to interfere in an election to the agency. “Give me a break,” Trump said. “Life doesn’t work that way.”

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Trump’s team has repeatedly been pressed about how to handle foreign offers of campaign help after it became public that his son, son-in-law and campaign manager met in 2016 with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who claimed to have information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump’s team has said nothing came of the meeting, and while special counsel Robert Mueller found that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election to help the president, he did not find enough evidence to conclude Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians in that effort.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Trump’s latest comments “invited” more foreign interference in U.S. elections.

“Our foreign adversaries listen to every president — every word the president of the United States has to say, as we clearly saw when he encouraged the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails and hours later they tried to do exactly that,” Schiff (D-Calif.) told POLITICO. “So I think he has invited another round of interference. As long as it’s to help his campaign, he seems more than happy to engage in any act, no matter how unethical or unlawful.”

Trump suggested Thursday that his comments were being taken out of context, but he offered no evidence to support that claim.

“My full answer is rarely played by the Fake News Media,” he said. “They purposely leave out the part that matters.”

He also sought to shift focus to Democrats, accusing Schiff and Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, of accepting negative information about him without calling the FBI. The pair were both involved in investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump did not cite any evidence to support his claim that they did not alert the FBI about information they found.

Rachel Cohen, Warner’s communications director, tweeted that she didn’t know what Trump was talking about. “This never happened,” she wrote.

“The fact is that the phony Witch Hunt is a giant scam where Democrats, and other really bad people, SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!” Trump said over two tweets. “They even had an ‘insurance policy’ just in case Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost their race for the Presidency! This is the biggest & worst political scandal in the history of the United States of America. Sad!”

The White House said Thursday that Democrats were being hypocritical since Clinton’s campaign was at one time involved in funding research into Trump that eventually yielded a dossier of information about him. The research, which was initially funded by Republicans, wound up in the hands of the FBI.

Cristiano Lima contributed to this story.

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