During a meeting Tuesday with members of Congress, Trump backtracked on his widely criticized comments from Monday dismissing U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russian meddled in the 2016 American presidential election and accepting Putin’s denial of interference.
In an about-face on Tuesday, Trump said he accepted U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia interfered in the election, adding that he has “full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies.”
As Trump made these comments, the lights in the White House flickered and Trump joked, “That must be the intelligence agencies. Okay, there we go. Are you guys okay?”
He went on to suggest that others may have also tried to interfere in the election and doubled down on his claims that “Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election.”
He added that there was “no collusion at all” between his campaign and Russia.
Trump also said he reviewed a transcript of the press conference he gave in Helsinki on Monday and claimed he meant to say: “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” that interfered in the election, as opposed to “would.”
“It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t,” he 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.”
Despite the overwhelming criticism of his comments, Trump on Tuesday touted his meeting with Putin as “successful” and said it helped improve Russian-U.S. relations.
“I entered the meeting with the firm conviction that diplomacy and engagement is better than hostility and conflict,” he said.
Trump faced backlash from both Republicans and Democrats for siding with Putin and refusing to denounce Russian meddling in the election.
Even top Republicans in Congress, known not to criticize Trump — at least publicly — chimed in to rebuke his remarks.
House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a press release contradicting Trump, saying “there is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”
“That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and daughter of the arch-conservative former Vice President Dick Cheney, says she is “deeply troubled” by how Trump sided with Putin.
“As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia,” she tweeted. “Russia poses a grave threat to our national security.”
Senator Lindsay Graham Tweeted that Trump should check the soccer ball which Putin gave at their meeting for “listening devices.”
He also wrote: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin,” McCain said. “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.”