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Donald Trump says he accepts intel that Russia meddled in 2016 elections

Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he had full faith and support for US intelligence agencies and accepted their conclusion that Russia meddled in the election.

world Updated: Jul 18, 2018 13:45 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Washington, Hindustan Times
Donald Trump,US elections,Russia
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland.(REUTERS)

Under fire from friends and foes alike, US President Donald Trump walked back his Helsinki remarks on Tuesday – expressing “full faith” in his intelligence agencies and stating he had repeatedly accepted their conclusion that Russia had indeed meddled in the 2016 election.

Pointing to a quote from the transcript, Trump said he had misspoken at the joint news briefing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. When asked if he believed the findings of his intelligence agencies on Russia’s meddling, Trump had said: “My people came to me. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this – I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

On Tuesday, the president said that he had meant to say “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be; sort of a double negative”, but ended up saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t”.

He made these remarks, read from a written note that he seemed to veer away from at times, ahead of a meeting with lawmakers by seeking to quell the storm over appearing to side with Putin against his own intelligence agencies at the news conference.

“I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” the president said. “I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that – and I’ve said this many times – I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

But, as he has done before, Trump added: “Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.”

US intelligence agencies have not implicated any other source or country. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the meddling and collusion, has indicted several Russian individuals and entities.

However, even while accepting the findings of intelligence agencies that Russia had indeed meddled in the election, Trump maintained that there was no collusion by his campaign. He stressed on that.

President Trump returned home from Helsinki Monday night to widespread outrage, with even staunch allies such as former House speaker Newt Gingrich – a Republican – publicly calling the news conference the “most serious mistake” of the Trump presidency. Other party leaders and lawmakers called it “disgraceful”, “shameful”, “regrettable” and “disappointing”.

The president seemed surprised by the backlash, and first tried to push back in a Tweet Tuesday morning by saying that Helsinki was a successful visit and blaming the controversy on “Fake News media crazy”. But that didn’t work, and the criticism continued with House speaker Paul Ryan – who is second in line to the presidency after the vice-president – and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell joining in.

“The Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018,” McConnell said at the Capitol, just minutes before Trump was scheduled to address the storm at his own hastily scheduled address.

On Monday, Daniel Coats, the head of US intelligence, had fired off a statement reiterating the community’s conclusion that Russia had indeed interfered in the 2016 election. A Trump nominee, Coats, did not even wait for the president’s return.

As the outrage built Tuesday morning, Trump called a meeting with Vice-President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton and new Communication Director Mike Shine (a former Fox News CEO), and decided that he must clarify on his “misspoken” remarks, according to The Wall Street Journal.

First Published: Jul 18, 2018 00:50 IST