President Donald Trump declared Sunday that it is time for the United States to “move forward in working constructively with Russia,” launching a morning tweet storm recount of the G-20 summit and his face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sunday night, Trump backtracked on one of his earlier tweets, an idea to form an “impenetrable” joint cybersecurity unit with Russia to prevent hacking of elections.
“The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!” Trump wrote, referring to a cease fire in Syria.
High-profile Republican senators were among the chorus that strongly condemned Trump’s earlier tweet suggesting cooperating with the Kremlin on hacking after that country’s alleged meddling in last year’s election.
Trump said he confronted Putin on the issue, but did not say whether he accepted or rejected the Russia leader’s denial.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion,” Trump wrote in one of eight tweets that started at 7:15 a.m.
The president added: “We negotiated a cease-fire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
A ceasefire in southwest Syria went into effect Sunday as part of an agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan.
Sunday afternoon he sent another tweet: “Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!”
While intelligence agencies have concluded that hackers with ties to Russia attempted to sway the presidential election, Trump has been less affirmative.
He said last week “I think it was Russia,” but it could have been other people and “nobody really knows for sure.”
Many Republicans have joined with Democrats on Capitol Hill in regarding Russia as an adversary, even as the Trump administration seeks warmer relations with Moscow.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) deadpanned Sunday to CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on cybersecurity: “I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance to that effort since he’s doing the hacking.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) accused Trump of empowering Putin.
“When it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot,” Graham told NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “And to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted a reference to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad: “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.’”
Senior Trump advisers sent mixed signals on whether the president believed Putin’s version of events.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “everybody knows that Russia meddled in our election.”
She added of Trump, “Everybody’s trying to nitpick what he says and what he doesn’t. Talk is one thing, actions are another.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would not directly address Trump’s response to Putin’s denial.
“Why would President Trump broadcast exactly what he said in the meeting? Strategically, that makes no sense,” Mnuchin told ABC News’ “This Week.” “Why should he answer that question directly? He’s made it very clear how he feels.”
Mnuchin defended the cybersecurity partnership as “like any other strategic alliance,” calling Trump’s rebuilding of U.S. relations with Russia a “very significant accomplishment.”
Reince Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump “absolutely did not believe” Putin’s denial of election meddling.