Trump forced to clarify position on Russian meddling a second time

President’s remarks appear to undercut findings of US intelligence services

US president Donald Trump says he misspoke at his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin and meant to say he saw no reason why it was not Russia that interfered in the 2016 US election. Video: The White House

 

US president Donald Trump was again forced to clarify comments on Wednesday about his meeting with Vladimir Putin, as his press secretary insisted that the president had not said that Russia was no longer interfering in US elections.

Earlier in the day, Mr Trump appeared to suggest Russia was not targeting the United States – a comment that put him at odds with his own intelligence services.

Asked by reporters ahead of a cabinet meeting in the White House if he believed Russia was still targeting the US, he replied: “No.” His remarks elicited a strong rebuke from senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham who noted a “big discrepancy” between Mr Trump’s statement and warnings by director of national intelligence Dan Coats that Russian interference was continuing.

But during the White House press briefing just over an hour later, press secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump had been saying ‘no’ to taking any more questions.

“I had a chance to speak with the president. The president was saying no to answering questions,” she said. She continued: “The president and his administration is working very hard to make sure Russia does not meddle in our elections.”

The confusion over Mr Trump’s comments came a day after he was forced to clarify statements he made during his press conference with the Russian leader on Monday – a performance that has been widely criticised, even by members of his own party.

Defiant

But Mr Trump remained defiant on Wednesday. In a series of tweets he denounced critics of his summit with Mr Putin, accusing them of “Trump derangement syndrome.” “Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia,” he said on twitter. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!

He also said the meeting with Mr Putin “may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success” than his Nato meeting in Brussels, which he claimed was an “acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace”.

In a separate early-morning tweet, he said: “So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. ”

He claimed that some people “would rather go to war” than see his relationship with the Russian president.

“We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Mr Trump has faced a barrage of criticism since returning to Washington on Monday night after a week-long trip to Europe in which he criticised political leaders in traditional US allies such as Germany and Britain, while apparently siding with Russia in allegations about election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

‘Hysteria’

During a combative White House press briefing, Ms Sanders defended Mr Trump and accused the media of “hysteria” over the Putin summit.

“You guys need to take a bit of a step back,” she said, addressing the assembled journalists.

She said Mr Trump had taken a tough stance on Russia throughout his presidency, from expelling Russian diplomats to increasing sanctions. She said the fact that Mr Trump had said on Tuesday – a day after declining to condemn Russia as he stood alongside Mr Putin – that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, was “a pretty bold call out of another world leader”.

She added that, when he sees that he has mis-spoken, Mr Trump “comes out and he says so”.

Mr Trump also stoked controversy by suggesting in an interview with Fox News that he was questioning Nato’s core principle of mutual defence, by questioning why the US would have to intervene and defend a country such as Montenegro.