Trump now says he accepts that Russia meddled in 2016 election
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he accepts the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was behind a campaign of cyberattacks intended to impact the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reversing course from a day earlier, when he said he saw no reason why the Kremlin might have launched such an attack.
“Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies, I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Trump told reporters at the top of a White House meeting on Tuesday. “Let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times, I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”
The president’s reversal — one of several he has had on the issue of Russian interference since his 2016 election victory — follows Monday’s bilateral news conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin, one that critics said marked a foreign policy nadir of Trump’s first 16 months in office.
Standing side-by-side with Putin, who U.S. intelligence agencies have said ordered the campaign of cyberattacks against U.S. political targets, Trump told reporters that Putin had forcefully denied that Russia was to blame for the election-meddling efforts and that “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
The backlash against the president’s remark prompted Trump to take the rare step Tuesday of admitting a mistake, telling reporters that when he said he didn’t see any reason why Russia would have sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, he had in fact meant the exact opposite.
“I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave and I realize that there is need for some clarification. It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t,” Trump said. “In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia.’”
“So just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t and the sentence should have been — and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video,” he continued. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
That Trump would side with Putin over his own intelligence chiefs quickly proved to be a jaw-dropper not just for the president’s Democratic critics but also for many of his fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Senators John McCain and Bob Corker, the respective chairmen of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, were scathing in their critiques of the president.
Trump’s relatively soft stance on Russia and particular hesitancy to accept that the Kremlin sought to bolster his 2016 campaign has long confounded both critics and allies of the president, with Trump flip-flopping often between a seeming begrudging acceptance of the intelligence community’s assessment and an apparent eagerness to take denials from Putin, a former KGB agent, at face value.
During the 2016 campaign and the subsequent transition period, Trump was notably resistant to the notion that Russia was behind the cyberattacks targeting the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, suggesting instead that the true culprit could be China or a “400-pound person sitting in bed.”
More recently, he has been somewhat more consistent, albeit not especially emphatic, in stating his acceptance that Russia was to blame. Still, on the two occasions he has met Putin — Monday’s Helsinki meeting and at the G-20 last summer in Germany — Trump suggested in the immediate aftermath that he gave at least some credence to the denials issued by his Russian counterpart.