Trump claims he misspoke, walks back his explosive comments with Putin amid harsh blowback from allies and critics

Donald Trump.

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Donald Trump.
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Grigory Dukor/Reuters

  • President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he misspoke a day earlier when he didn’t back up the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.
  • Trump said Monday at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that was responsible for the election meddling.
  • Trump’s refusal to condemn Putin and Russia over the US intelligence community’s findings garnered harsh blowback.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he misspoke a day earlier when he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.

Trump said Monday at a joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki that he didn’t “see any reason why” Russia would be responsible for the election meddling.

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

On Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke and instead meant to say he didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he had “full faith” in US intelligence agencies and wanted to clarify his Monday statements.

“I’ve said this many times,” Trump said, reading from a written statement. “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”

His initial refusal to condemn Putin and Russia over the US intelligence community’s findings garnered harsh blowback from lawmakers, intelligence veterans, and even some of his own allies.

“Trump essentially disowned the results of his own intelligence services and believed Vladimir Putin,” said William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“It’s one thing for him to say that in a room by himself,” Pomeranz said. “It’s another situation when he has Putin right next to him and in theory can challenge him and voice the US’s absolute rejection of what happened during the election, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to do that.”

Trump’s comments in Helsinki came three days after the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials on hacking charges related to the 2016 election.

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the CIA and the National Security Agency, said he was “beyond shocked” watching the press conference.

“We’re all sort of used to Trump by now, and you say to yourself that we’ve gone as low as we can, and then you see what he said, and it’s so much worse than you’d think,” Deitz said. “Doing this in front of a foreign leader – and that too is someone who’s an adversary and not an ally – is unimaginable.”