Trump says he misspoke about Russia at Putin press conference

US president says he meant to say ‘no reason Russia wouldn’t have interfered’ in 2016 election

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 sought to quell the outcry over his handling of Monday’s landmark summit with Vladimir Putin, telling reporters that he accepted that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but claiming it “could be other people also”, adding: “[There are] a lot of people out there.”

Speaking in the White House ahead of a meeting with Congressional Republicans on tax reform, Mr Trump said he accepted the intelligence community conclusion that Russian meddling in the 2016 election took place, “but that Russia’s actions had “no impact at all on the outcome of the election.”

He also said that, having read the transcript of his press conference with Mr Putin, he realised that he had used the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t” in a key sentence. He said he had meant to say in Helsinki that he saw no reason why it “wouldn’t” be Russia that had interfered in the election.

Mr Trump caused widespread consternation on Monday during his press conference with Mr Putin by saying that he had “no reason to believe” that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election.

Mr Trump also criticised Democrats and the Obama administration for their handling of the issue of Russian interference. “They knew about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the elections in September and they totally buried it. They buried it because they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win,” he said.

In contrast, his administration had “taken a very firm stance” against Russia, he said. “We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.”

It was unclear if his comments would be enough to appease Republicans, as the White House sought to contain the fallout from his explosive press conference with the Russian leader.

The US president had not been due to make any public comments on Tuesday, but had come under enormous pressure from Republicans to correct his remarks, having faced a barrage of criticism since arriving back to Washington on Monday night over his comments during a press conference with the Russian leader after their meeting in Helsinki that day.

Earlier, a defiant president doubled-down on his position in a series of ^tweets on Tuesday morning. He said that his meeting with the Russian leader had been “even better” than his “great meeting with Nato” in Brussels last week, which he said had raised “vast amounts of money”.

“Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!”, he said.

In a separate tweet he claimed that Nato countries had agreed to pay “hundreds of billions of dollars more” in the future “only because of me”. “NATO was weak, but now it is strong again (bad for Russia). The media only says I was rude to leaders, never mentions the money!”, he said.

More Republican figures criticised Mr Trump’s press conference with the Russian leader in Helsinki on Monday during which the US president appeared to take Russia’s side over his own intelligence services concerning allegations of Russian interference in the election.

‘Big mistake’

In a stark repudiation of the president, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that Russia was no friend to the United States, highlighting “the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, not to mention the indisputable evidence that they tried to impact the 2016 election”.

“Make no mistake about it, I would say to friends in Europe, we understand the Russian threat, and I think that that this a widespread view here in the United States Senate amid members of both parties,” he said.

Similarly, House speaker Paul Ryan, in his weekly press conference, said that Russia “did interfere in our elections – it’s really clear”. “There should be no doubt about that,” he said, suggesting that Congress would be willing to consider additional sanctions on Russia.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich – a strong supporter of Mr Trump – said on Twitter: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected – immediately.”

Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said Mr Trump had made “a very big mistake”.

“He’s got to speak out about it, and he’s got to reverse course immediately,” he said during an appearance on CNN. “The optics of this situation are a disaster. ... If he doesn’t reverse course on this, he will eventually lose people who want to support him.”