Trump Walks Back Controversial Comments On Russian Election Interference
Updated at 5:18 p.m. ET
A day after his much-criticized news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump attempted some damage control Tuesday, saying "I accept" the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign.
But he again repeated his claim that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia and suggested that others may have interfered in the election.
During his news conference along side Putin in Helsinki on Monday, Trump stated he didn't see "any reason" why Russia was responsible for hacking the 2016 election, as U.S. intelligence agencies have found.
The president also said Monday that Putin's denials of interference were "extremely strong and powerful."
Before a meeting with GOP lawmakers on Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he misspoke in Helsinki and that when he said he saw no reason why it "would" be Russia that interfered, he meant to say he saw no reason why it "wouldn't."
Trump added that he has "full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies."
"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said, but then, calling into question the extent of his acceptance, he added that it "could be other people also, there are a lot of people out there."
The top Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said in a statement that Trump's remarks Tuesday "embarrasses our nation even further." Pelosi also wondered whether they actually signaled a change in the president's approach to Russia's leader. "Will he finally take on Putin? Has he called Putin to convey his newfound confidence in our Intelligence Community? Will he demand the extradition of the 12 recently indicted Russian nationals ...?" Pelosi also wrote.
Trump walked back his comments after top Republican congressional leaders implicitly criticized Trump's initial remarks in Finland.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday that Russia "did meddle with our elections" and said he would consider further sanctions against Moscow.
"We stand by our NATO allies and all those countries that are facing Russia aggression. How many times have I stood up here and told you what I think about Vladimir Putin? Vladimir Putin does not share our interests. Vladimir Putin does not share our values," said Ryan.
A few hours later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., echoed those comments. Calling NATO the most significant military alliance in history, McConnell said Russia was not "our friend," adding, "I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us that fully understand what happened in 2016, and that it really better not happen again."
Ryan said he had not spoken with Trump, who hosted Republican members of Congress to discuss another round of tax cuts. The speaker said he stood by his Monday statement that "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals."
Trump took on his critics via Twitter on Tuesday morning, saying he had "a great meeting with NATO" and "an even better meeting" with Putin, but saying that "it is not being reported that way" and that "the Fake News is going Crazy."
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2018
Ryan also said special counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to continue his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, adding "nothing has changed."
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