Putin was responsible for election meddling, Trump now says
President backtracks by saying he believes US intelligence assessments on Russia
Donald Trump now says he holds the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally responsible for his country’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, further walking back a statement on Monday that drew bipartisan rebukes.
The US president told Jeff Glor of CBS News that he holds Mr Putin responsible “because he’s in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country”.
Asked if he agreed with US intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the election in 2016, Mr Trump replied: “Yeah, and I’ve said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah.”
Asked what he had said to Mr Putin during a one-on-one meeting the two had in Helsinki on Monday, Mr Trump replied: “Very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling, we can’t have any of that.”
But Mr Trump stopped short of saying that if the intelligence services were correct in their assessment, then Mr Putin must be lying.
“I don’t want to get into whether or not he’s lying. I can only say I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think Dan Coats is excellent ... we have excellent people. So when they tell me something it means a lot.”
Christopher Wray, the FBI director, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, said that Russia continued to attempt to sow discord in the US, using fake news and propaganda to “spin up” Americans.
He added that he stood behind the US intelligence agencies’ assessment of Moscow’s election meddling.
He also said that Moscow’s offer of assistance in the investigation of Russian military intelligence officials indicted in the US on espionage charges, was “not high on our list of investigative techniques”.
The president’s statements came after a second day of efforts by the White House to quell bipartisan anger over his failure to publicly hold Mr Putin to account at a joint news conference in Helsinki.
Mr Trump rejected criticism from senior members of even his own party, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who accused him of showing “weakness”.
“I totally disagree. I think it was a strong news conference. People said you should have gone up to him, you shoulda started screaming in his face. We’re living in the real world, okay?”
In his private meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Trump continued, the two leaders discussed nuclear proliferation and the protection of Isreal. On North Korea, Mr Trump said the Russian president “agrees with what I’m doing and that I’m doing a great job. He said he’d help, and I think he will.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House’s tortured semantics of the past several days continued when Mr Trump replied “no” when asked by reporters whether he believed Russia was “still targeting the US”, contradicting Dan Coats, director of national intelligence.
A few hours later, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, claimed Mr Trump had been answering a different question, and that “we believe the threat still exists”.
The exchanges came a day after Mr Trump’s effort to clarify what he had said in Helsinki on Monday, claiming that he had accidentally used “would” instead of “wouldn’t” to describe whether he thought Russian intelligence interfered in the election. – Guardian