- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
- President Trump clarified his remarks about Russia’s election interference and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.
- Trump said that he believed Putin believed it when he said Russia did not meddle in the US election.
- He also said that he stands by the US intelligence community as it is “currently led, by very fine people.”
On Saturday, Trump said that Putin insisted during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that Russia did not interfere in the election, and that he believed the Russian leader meant it.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
He added that whenever they had met, Putin denied ordering Russia’s election meddling. “I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said. “But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
Roberts told Trump that his remarks were interpreted by some, including Sen. John McCain, “to think that you believe that [Putin] is saying he did not interfere in the election.” He then asked Trump to answer definitively with a “yes” or “no” as to whether he believed Putin and Russia meddled in the race.
Trump said he was “surprised” at the blowback his comments had received.
“What I said there is that I believe he believes that,” he said, referring to Putin. “And that’s very important for someone to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.”
Trump refused to say whether he believed Russia interfered, but he said he stood with US intelligence agencies, who concluded with high confidence earlier this year that Russia mounted an elaborate and multi-faceted effort to undermine the election and propel Trump to victory, while damaging his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership,” Trump said.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Trump fighting with former intelligence officials
On Saturday, Trump blasted three former intelligence officials, all of whom have strongly urged the president to take a harder stance against Russia’s aggression toward the US and the West.
Trump called former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “political hacks.”
“So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey,” Trump said. “Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them.”
On Sunday, the president said that he believed the intelligence agencies as they were currently led, adding that he had “worked with them very strongly.”
After, he again downplayed the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s interference and its efforts to help Trump win, referring to the New York Times’ and Associated Press’ reports that had to be corrected earlier this year to clarify that four agencies, not 17 as was first reported, were involved in compiling a January intelligence report about Russia’s meddling.
“There weren’t 17 as previously reported – there were four,” Trump said. “But they were saying there were 17, there were actually four. But as currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
The four agencies involved in putting together the January report were the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 intelligence agencies. Multiple national security experts have confirmed that whether the report was drawn up by four or 17 agencies is irrelevant.
More importantly, the four that did put together the assessment are, as Brennan noted on Sunday, primarily tasked with counterintelligence and examining the risk Russia poses.
Trump drew additional scrutiny on Saturday, when he asked on Twitter when all the “haters and fools” would realize that having a good relationship with Russia “is a good thing.”
“There [sic] always playing politics – bad for our country,” Trump said. “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”
He continued, asking whether the “Fake News Media” remembered “when Crooked Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.”
Clapper said Sunday that Trump was “naive” if he believed Russia’s interests ran parallel with the US’, and Brennan similarly urged caution.