WASHINGTON (CBS) — President Trump on Tuesday claimed he accepts the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, and misspoke when he seemed to say otherwise in a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday.
Mr. Trump, making what he described as clarifying comments in a meeting with members of Congress Tuesday, said he meant to say during the Helsinki press conference that he had no reason to think it was anyone other than Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, but didn’t ultimately say that. Mr. Trump said he reviewed a transcript of what he said, and decided to clarify his comments.
“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,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “Could be other people also.”
“I just wanted to clear up, I have the strongest respect for our intelligence agencies headed by my people,” Mr. Trump added later.
Still, Mr. Trump emphasized that any actions Russia took had no impact on the presidential election, and diplomacy with Russia is important. The president called his meeting with Putin more successful than his NATO meeting, claiming he and Putin made progress on conflicts. Mr. Trump, as he has in the past, emphasized that getting along with Russia is a desirable thing. The president, according to the White House press cool, ignored a question as to whether he will publicly condemn Putin.
“As successful as NATO was, I think this was our most successful visit,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump made his latest comments in the face of a flood of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike over his Monday comments in which he appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the issue of election meddling.
Only a small handful of Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, have defended Mr. Trump. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates issued a statement following the Putin meeting that clearly broke with Mr. Trump’s stance during the Putin press conference.
The president’s comments alongside members of Congress came after he seemed to double down on his press conference with Putin earlier in the day. Mr. Trump, rather than backing down from his comments with Putin, doubled down on them Tuesday. Mr. Trump tweeted that he has “an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia” than he did with NATO.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!” the president tweeted Tuesday morning.
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