WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in a reversal from his previous comments casting doubt on Russian election hacking, said Tuesday he was “very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election.”
Trump claimed without evidence in a tweet that Russia would be “pushing very hard for the Democrats” ahead of November’s midterm elections. The tweet came a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a joint news conference with Trump, denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but said “yes” when asked if he wanted Trump to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election,” Trump tweeted Tuesday aboard Air Force One, while en route to multiple appearances in Kansas City, Missouri. “Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Trump’s claim on being “tougher on Russia” than his predecessors comes a week after widespread bipartisan backlash over his embrace of Putin forced Trump to walk back his earlier acceptance of Putin’s “extremely strong and forceful” denial of Russian election meddling. Two days later, Trump said he misspoke and indeed had confidence in the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that the Kremlin orchestrated online efforts to sow discord among the American electorate in 2016.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 12 Russians after investigators determined that operatives tied to the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency, were behind multiple email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The emails were leaked and posted online throughout the final months of the 2016 campaign season.
Meanwhile, Kremlin officials on Tuesday said they had yet to accept an invitation extended by Trump last Thursday for Putin to visit Washington.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow that “there are other options” to meet that both leaders could consider, such as a meeting of G-20 leaders in Argentina in November, according to Reuters.
“Maybe there will be other international events which Trump and Putin will take part in,” Ushakov said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a Tuesday morning news conference, said if Putin were to arrive in Washington for a summit with Trump, the Russian leader would not be invited to speak before a joint session of Congress, as has been done by other world leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron in April.
“We would certainly not be giving him an invitation to do a joint session,” Ryan told reporters. “That’s something we reserve for allies.”