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Trump: 'I think I'd take' damaging info on 2020 rival from foreign operatives

Key Points
  • Trump presented a hypothetical situation in which "somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent.' Do you call the FBI?"
  • When ABC's George Stephanopoulos challenged Trump, saying that the FBI director believes a person presented with potentially stolen information should call the agency, the president responded, "The FBI director is wrong."
  • The taped comments come on the same day the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed door hearing.
  • Trump defended his remarks in a two-part tweet Thursday morning.

President Donald Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he would accept information on his 2020 opponent if it was offered by foreign operatives.

In an interview aired Wednesday, Trump presented a hypothetical situation in which "somebody comes up and says, 'Hey, I have information on your opponent.' Do you call the FBI?" The president went on to say, "I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI" and, "Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way."

When Stephanopoulos challenged Trump, saying that the FBI director believes a person presented with potentially stolen information should call the agency, the president responded, "The FBI director is wrong."

In a clip circulated on Twitter, Stephanopoulos pushed back on Trump's insistence to take the information over calling federal authorities, but Trump held firm, saying a person could "do both."

"There's nothing wrong with listening," Trump said in a video from inside the Oval Office.

When Stephanopoulos suggested a transaction of that kind could constitute election interference, the president disagreed.

"It's not interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI," Trump said.

Trump defended his remarks in a two-part tweet Thursday morning. "I meet and talk to 'foreign governments' every day," Trump said, noting that he had spoken to numerous world leaders during his recent trip to Europe — including "the Prince of Whales." Trump fixed the spelling of the tweet a few minutes later.

"We talked about 'Everything!'" he said. "Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous!"

The president also claimed that the clip from ABC's interview did not include his "full answer" and left out "the part that matters."

The taped comments come on the same day the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed door hearing. Members were expected to grill him on his meeting with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin at Trump Tower in Manhattan on June 2016. That lawyer claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the then-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Watch the full ABC interview.

Below is the transcript of the clip:

Stephanopoulos: Your son, Don Jr., is up before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. And again, he was not charged with anything. In retrospect though-

Trump: By the way, not only wasn't he charged, if you read it, with all of the horrible fake news- I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go too jail — this is a good young man — that he was going to go to jail. And then the report comes out, and they didn't even say, they hardly even talked about him.

Stephanopoulos: Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?

Trump: OK. Let's put yourself in a position. You're a congressman, somebody comes up and says, "Hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don't think-

Stephanopoulos: If it's coming from Russia, you do.

Trump: 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. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do-

Stephanopoulos: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.

Trump: Well, that's different, a stolen briefing book. This isn't a stolen- This is somebody that said, "We have information on your opponent." Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.

Stephanopoulos: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

Trump: The FBI director is wrong.

Stephanopoulos: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

Trump: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't- There's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — "We have information on your opponent." Oh. I think I'd want to hear it.

Stephanopoulos: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

Trump: It's not interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. "Oh, let's call the FBI." The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research.

— CNBC's Dan Mangan contributed to this report.