Trump Seeks to Downplay Past Skepticism of Russian Election Meddling

CNN/ Newswire | 11/13/2017, 8:12 a.m.
President Donald Trump downplayed on Sunday his past skepticism of Russia's involvement in US election meddling, saying he sides with ...
Donald Trump

By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer

(CNN) -- President Donald Trump downplayed on Sunday his past skepticism of Russia's involvement in US election meddling, saying he sides with American intelligence agencies over Vladimir Putin when it comes to assigning culpability for the hack.

But he again stopped short of stating explicitly that Russia was behind the interference in the 2016 presidential election, which US intelligence has determined was conducted to help Trump.

Speaking at a news conference in the Vietnamese capital, Trump was clarifying remarks he made a day earlier which suggested Putin was being sincere in his denials that Moscow engaged in election meddling.

The President stressed he was not accepting Putin's denials at face value, instead saying he merely believed Putin was being genuine.

"I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election," Trump said. "As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership."

Trump has long declined to say definitively whether he believes Russia was behind the attempts to sway last year's election. And he did not say conclusively on Sunday when asked directly whether Russia was responsible. But his nod toward American intelligence agencies, which he said were led by "very fine people," put him closer to accepting what his own government has determined happened months ago.

The remarks came after Trump ignited further controversy over the Russia interference issue when he told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday that he believed Putin was being sincere when he denied involvement in the cyber-intrusion.

"I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said.

Backlash in Washington

The remark prompted backlash in Washington, where intelligence officials are unanimous in their assessment that Russia sought to influence last year's contest.

The CIA released an unusual statement saying the current director Mike Pompeo believes the agency's determination that Russia was behind the election meddling.

Trump, however, insisted during his news conference on Sunday that his remarks were clear.

"I'm surprised there's conflict on this," he said. "I think it was very obvious to everybody."

Trump said he didn't want to engage in a public spat with his Russian counterpart over the issue of election meddling during talks this week in Vietnam.

"I'm not looking to stand and start arguing with somebody when there are reporters all around and cameras recording and seeing our conversation," Trump said.

His meetings with Putin in Da Nang were held in private, however, and reporters did not see the two men engage in discussions.

Trump said it was imperative the US and Russia work together to solve problems like Syria and North Korea.

"What I believe is we have to get to work," Trump said. "People don't realize, Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned. They were sanctioned at a very high level. And that took place very recently. It's now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken."