WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump responded Tuesday to growing condemnation over his remarks siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin, by saying he misspoke during their joint appearance and indeed accepts the conclusion of U.S. intelligence officials that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
“It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn't,” Trump told reporters at the White House. His clarification came a day after he stood side by side with Putin at a news conference in Helsinki, during which he accepted what he called the Russian leader’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
Trump on Tuesday walked back some of his earlier comments from Monday as both Republicans and Democrats alike continued to denounce his willingness to accept Putin’s word over the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies. Russia orchestrated social media campaigns aimed at sowing discord among American voters, and hacked into Democratic campaign emails, U.S. intelligence officials have said.
Trump told reporters he had reviewed a transcript of Monday’s news conference and realized “there is a need for some clarification.”
In Helsinki, when asked by a reporter if he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s findings, Trump said he didn’t see any reason why Russia would have interfered. On Tuesday, Trump said, “the sentence should have been, ‘I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”
The president said he had “full faith and support” in the intelligence community’s findings, but also raised the possibility of “other people” besides the Russians playing a role in the election meddling, an idea not supported by any of the federal agencies' findings released last year.
Trump said his administration would work to “repel” further Russian intrusions in the upcoming midterm elections.
Earlier in the day, Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to defend the meeting with Putin as going “even better” than last week’s summit with longtime NATO allies.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia.” Trump tweeted. “Sadly, it is not being reported that way — the Fake News is going Crazy!”
Trump’s insistence that media coverage was to blame for the widespread criticism came as longtime supporters of the president called on him to abandon his supportive posture toward Putin and instead condemn the Russian leader long viewed as an adversary to America’s interests.
“If he doesn’t reverse course on this, he will eventually lose people who want to support him,” former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a Long Island native, said during a morning interview on CNN.
In an editorial published Tuesday, The Weekly Standard, a conservative news magazine, called on Congress to censure Trump to provide a “powerful statement from the GOP that the party’s leaders will not simply ignore or excuse a sitting U.S. president of either party openly crediting America’s enemies at the expense of its public servants — and of the truth.”
"His words on Monday encouraged the nation’s enemies, insulted its intelligence officers, made the president himself look like a fool, and thus brought disgrace on the presidency,” the outlet wrote.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), offered one of the rare voices of support for Trump, telling CBS' “This Morning” on Tuesday that it was a “good thing” for Trump and Putin to meet.
"We have to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, and if we're only going to talk to people who have perfect constitutional republics, we're going to have a very small audience and we're going to have a lot of potential conflicts with no outlet for diplomacy," Paul said.
Trump later took to Twitter to thank Paul for his support.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday called on lawmakers to hold hearings into the closed-door session Putin and Trump held for more than two hours with only translators in tow.
Schumer, in a Senate floor speech, said the Republican-controlled body should demand testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s National Security Council to hear what the president told them about the one-on-one meeting.
“Our Republican colleagues cannot just go, ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk.’ They must act if they want to help America,” Schumer said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said on CNN Tuesday night that there are things Congress can do "to address this crisis that the president has thrown us into."
For example, she said, "We can create another sanctions bill. The first one we did the president has yet to implement all of the sanctions that were in that bill … and we have to create an election security czar, which is something I think we should be doing on a bipartisan basis."
With Ted Phillips