WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday grudgingly sought to inch back his warm remarks about Russia and its leader during a summit in Helsinki a day earlier, saying he had misspoken when he appeared to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election over the conclusions of his own intelligence community.
Initially crossing his arms in front of him, and reading haltingly from prepared remarks, the president said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to influence the election – but added that it “could be other people also,” an assertion not backed by evidence.
The strained effort at damage control came more than 24 hours after his rhetorical embrace of Putin at a joint news conference set off a global uproar, including shouts of treason from some Democrats and demands from many Republicans that he mop up the mess. Many of his usual defenders had gone dark in the wake of the summit, and neither Trump nor his aides acknowledged any error until the president took to the cameras Tuesday afternoon.
Trump sought to minimize the impact of Russia’s efforts to interfere in domestic U.S. politics while repeating his frequent denials of cooperation between his campaign and Moscow. And he did not address the broader context of his remarks in Helsinki, which included praise for Putin, attacks on the FBI, and declarations that both Russia and the United States were equally to blame for sour relations.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday, flanked at the White House by Republican members of Congress who were preparing for a meeting on tax policy. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all, and people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.”