Donald Trump

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Trump On CBS Evening News: Putin Is Responsible For Russian Meddling In 2016

July 18, 2018 - 9:03 am
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- President Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he does agree that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential race, and he also agreed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible.

Trump, in an exclusive interview with Glor on the CBS Evening News, said he has stated "numerous times before" that he agrees Russia meddled in the 2016 election. The president's comments come after his widely criticized press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, in which Trump appeared to say he had no reason to believe Russia interfered, which would contradict the findings of multiple U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump offered a clarification Tuesday that he had misspoken when he said that, and he accepts the findings of his intelligence agencies. 

Here is the exchange between Trump and Glor: 

Glor: "You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016."

Trump: "Yeah and I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah."

Glor: "But you haven't condemned Putin, specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?"

Trump: "Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes."

Glor: "What did you say to him?"

Trump: "Very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that – now look. We're also living in a grown-up world. Will a strong statement -- you know -- President Obama supposedly made a strong statement – nobody heard it. What they did hear is a statement he made to Putin's very close friend. And that statement was not acceptable. Didn't get very much play relatively speaking. But that statement was not acceptable. But I let him know we can't have this, we're not going to have it, and that's the way it's going to be."

But Trump did repeat that there was no collusion between Russia and his own campaign.

“I had nothing to do with Russia with respect to my race. I won that race rather easily, and I can tell you, I think, frankly, 2020, I think it’s going to be even better than ’16,” he told Glor.

Trump also said the closed-door meeting with Putin was very productive, touching on a number of topics including a mutual stand on North Korean denuclearization.

On Twitter earlier Wednesday, Trump defended anew his much-criticized performance at the Helsinki summit, promising "big results" from better relations with Russia and hitting back at "haters."

On Tuesday, Trump walked back comments that called into question U.S. intelligence findings of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Those comments, delivered alongside Putin at a summit press conference Monday, had prompted blistering, bipartisan criticism at home.

"So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki," Trump tweeted.

He added: "We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match."

In a follow-up tweet, Trump wrote that Russia has agreed to help in delicate negotiations with North Korea. But he gave no details on how and when that would happen.

"Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!" he wrote.

In a later tweet, he accused his critics of suffering from "Trump derangerment syndrome."

Amid bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, Trump sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error Tuesday. He backed away from his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why I wouldn't, or why it wouldn't be Russia'" instead of "why it would," Trump said Tuesday of the comments he had made standing alongside Putin on the summit stage in Helsinki.

That didn't explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long to correct his remarks. And the scripted cleanup pertained only to the least defensible of his comments.

He didn't reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin's "extremely strong and powerful" denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies' conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.

Trump also accused past American leaders, rather than Russia's destabilizing actions in the U.S. and around the world, for the souring of relations between two countries. And he did not address his other problematic statements during a week-long Europe tour, in which he sent the NATO alliance into emergency session and assailed British Prime Minister Theresa May as she was hosting him for an official visit.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump conceded Tuesday. But even then he made a point of adding, "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all."

Later Wednesday at the first White House press briefing since Trump’s summit with Putin, several reporters questioned Trump’s credibility Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had satisfactorily clarified his comments and had not tried to backpedal on what he said.

“We never said, ‘Just kidding,’ and I think you can take the fact that the president has credibility, because he saw that he had misspoken, and he wanted to clarify that yesterday, which he did,” Sanders said.

Sanders also said after being asked about the Russian meddling, “Slow down and quit going after the Trump Administration after every single thing that takes place.”

There was also controversy about another remark of Trump’s on the subject Wednesday.

“Today, there was a bit of a controversy sparked at midday, when the president was asked at a Cabinet meeting whether he believes that Russia is no longer targeting the United States, and he said no,” said CBS News White House Correspondent Steven Portnoy. “Well, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, later told us that the president was not saying no to the question, as much as he was saying, ‘No, I’m not taking any questions.’”

Trump later did answer a question that called into question whether Sanders was telling the truth, Portnoy noted. But the White House insists that Trump is committed to preventing Russian interference in American elections.

“The question is, does the president have faith – as he says he does – in the intelligence community? He says it, and yet he also seems to say other things that cast doubt on that,” Portnoy said.

Trump's walk-back has also raised questions about what can now be expected from Russia and President Putin.

"My colleagues in Moscow tell me that they are just as bewildered as some of us here in Washington as to how this is all playing out," Portnoy said. "They were pleasantly surprised that the president said what he said on Monday, they were delighted by it. Republicans here in Washington were deeply alarmed. Yesterday the president said it was a simple word that he needed to clarify which really doesn't comport in any way with what the president said over the course of that news conference."

Moments earlier, the usually reserved Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, publicly reassured America's allies in Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.

"The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not," McConnell declared.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was trying to "squirm away" from his comments alongside Putin. "It's 24 hours too late and in the wrong place," he said.

By dusk, hundreds of activists, led by attorney Michael Avenatti and actress Alyssa Milano, staged a protest near the White House, with chants of "traitor!" echoing along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump still maintained that his meetings with NATO allies went well and his summit with Putin "even better." But this reference to diplomatic success carried an edge, too, since the barrage of criticism and insults he delivered in Brussels and London was hardly well-received.

Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!"

On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia, but they showed no sign of acting any time soon.

"Let's be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally. "What we intend to do is make sure they don't get away with it again and also to help our allies."

In the Senate, McConnell said "there's a possibility" his chamber would act, pointing to a bipartisan measure from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to deter future Russian interference by ordering sanctions against countries if they do.

Both parties called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump's two-hour private session with Putin. Pompeo is to publicly testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.

Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for U.S. elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

But minority Democrats have few tools to enforce anything.

In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi staged a vote in support of the intelligence committee's findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But even that largely symbolic measure was blocked party-line by Republicans.

Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was preparing a bipartisan bill. But The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding resolution that amounts to "just some messaging exercise."

Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

"He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said. That's the part he corrected on Tuesday.

White House officials did not elaborate on how Trump came to issue the clarification, but administration aides described being stunned by his initial remarks Monday..

After his walk-back, Trump said his administration would "move aggressively" to repel efforts to interfere in American elections.

"We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018," he said. "And we have a lot of power."

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)