Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump said he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
With whining coming as never before from his own party, including a tirade from usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the U.S. president sought to end 27 hours of snowflakes melting by delivering a rare clarification of the obvious.
“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 of the comments he had made standing alongside Vladimir Putin on Monday’s summit stage in Helsinki.
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, reports AP News.
He 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.”
Moments earlier, McConnell felt the need to reassure America’s allies in Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.
With no if’s or but’s, the GOP leader declared, “The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not.”
Senate Democrat-Communist 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.
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.
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 found common ground with the Russian leader, 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.
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. GOP leaders, butt hurt by Trump’s comments in Helsinki, found out about his attempts to quell the outrage the same way everyone else did, as one aide put it, by watching and learning.
After his clarification of the obvious, 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.”
Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed because Congress and the media clearly did not understand his diplomatic methodology, in what was actually a very successful summit with Putin.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul emerged as one of the president’s few defenders. He cited Trump’s experience on the receiving end of “partisan investigations.”
Back at the White House, Paul’s comments drew a presidential tweet of gratitude:
“Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!”
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
July 18th, 2018