(CBS) — President Trump on Tuesday claimed he accepts the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, and misspoke when he seemed to say otherwise in a widely criticized press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Helsinki, Finland.
Mr. Trump, making what he described as clarifying comments in a meeting with members of Congress at the White House Tuesday, said he meant to say during the press conference that he had no reason to think it was anyone other than Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, but instead said he had no reason to think it was Russia. Mr. Trump told reporters he reviewed a transcript of what he said, and decided to clarify his comments.
“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,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “Could be other people also.”
Those comments came after Mr. Trump struggled to blame Russia for election meddling in the Monday press conference in Helsinki, when Mr. Trump said all he could do is “ask the question” about meddling and said Putin was very strong in his denials.
“My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Mr. Trump said Monday. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server.”
Mr. Trump was referring to the server belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as he has long criticized the Democrats for not handing over their server to the FBI after they were hacked.
As he clarified his press conference comments Tuesday, Mr. Trump emphasized that any actions Russia took had no impact on the presidential election. He also emphasized the importance of diplomacy, said getting along with Russia is a good thing, and claimed his meeting with Putin was even more successful than the NATO meeting in Brussels last week.
“As successful as NATO was, I think this was our most successful visit,” Mr. Trump said.
The president, according to the White House press cool, ignored a question as to whether he will publicly condemn Putin. No reporters were able to ask questions.
Mr. Trump made his latest comments in the face of a flood of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike over his Monday comments in which he appeared to side with Putin over his own intelligence agencies on the issue of election meddling.
Only a small handful of Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky,. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates issued a statement following the Putin meeting that clearly broke with Mr. Trump’s stance during the Putin press conference.
The president’s comments alongside members of Congress came after he seemed to double down on his press conference with Putin earlier in the day. Mr. Trump, rather than backing down from his comments with Putin, doubled down on them Tuesday. Mr. Trump tweeted that he has “an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia” than he did with NATO.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!” the president tweeted Tuesday morning.
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