Facing withering criticism over Monday’s deferential joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump asserted Tuesday that he misspoke when he said that Russia had not interfered with the U.S. presidential election.
“Let me begin by saying that once again, full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies. I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Trump said, in a prepared statement.
Speaking from the White House, Trump said that after reviewing a transcript of the press conference he realized that “in a key sentence I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’”
“Just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t,” Trump said, referring to his answer at the press conference, in response to a question about whether Russia had tried to influence the American election: “All I can do is ask the question — my people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump had said, in a remark that stunned listeners and provoked outrage, even from many Republicans.
Blasted for questioning the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian operatives had meddled in the election — also a subject of more than two dozen indictments by the Department of Justice — Trump seemed more open to the intelligence findings, but continued to qualify his remarks. “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” he said. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
And after attempting to explain his choice of words, Trump again insisted that his campaign had not colluded with the Russians during the election.
“As has been stated, and we’ve stated it previously on many occasions: no collusion,” Trump said.
Democrats held a separate news conference Tuesday in which some described Trump’s comments in Helsinki as “treason.” The president had insisted that he held “both countries responsible” for the poor relations between Washington and Moscow, despite the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people,” he added, “but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump’s embrace of Putin angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement released shortly after the summit. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin,” McCain continued. “He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.”
Dan Coats, Trump’s own national intelligence director, took the remarkable step of issuing his own statement that refuted the president following the press conference.
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers,” Coats said. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Trump’s comments also stunned some pundits on the president’s favorite television channel: Fox News.
“President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted. “It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper put it this way: “You have been watching one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen.”
More coverage of the Trump-Putin summit from Yahoo News:
- Trump says he believes Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in election
- Trump meets Putin, predicts they will have an ‘extraordinary relationship’
- ‘#SurrenderSummit’: Critics decry Trump’s ‘disgraceful’ performance
- Putin dismisses, but doesn’t quite deny, having ‘kompromat’ on Trump
- Trump and Putin: The admiration is mutual, the benefits one-sided
- Reporter forcibly removed before Trump’s press conference with Putin
- Slideshow: Trump meets Putin in Helsinki
- Slideshow: Protests in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit