President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 American election, but it is unclear if his mea culpa will be enough to assuage frustrated lawmakers.
He told reporters he has “full faith” in America’s intel apparatus a day after he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that his country interfered in the 2016 election that Trump won in a major upset. The president also claimed he misspoke in Finland when he said he saw no reason to believe Moscow meddled in the election.
“I realize there is some need for clarification,” Trump said, then claimed he has often voiced support for the intelligence community’s finding Russia interfered in the presidential race, even though a keystone of his presidency has been distancing himself from the conclusions of those agencies that Russia meddled in the election.
The lights went out at one point during the brief time reporters were in the Cabinet Room. “That must be the intelligence agencies,” the president quipped.
He also said his administration will “move aggressively to repeal any efforts, and repel — we will stop it, we will repel it — any efforts to interfere in our elections,” Trump said. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.”
Watch: Trump Says He ‘Misspoke’ on Russian Election Meddling
He reiterated his long-held stance that Russia’s meddling operation did not change the outcome of his win over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and again said he believes other entities — not just Russia — tried to upend the 2016 race.
As he often does, Trump blamed the meddling on the Obama administration. He said when intelligence officials warned former President Barack Obama and his staff, they “totally buried it.” But that is not an accurate statement: Obama ordered a counter-intelligence investigation and personally told Putin — though unsuccessfully — to “cut it out.”
His administration will “move aggressively to repeal any efforts, and repel – we will stop it, we will repel it – any efforts to interfere in our elections,” Trump said. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.” But some lawmakers are concerned the administration is not doing enough, with some reportedly saying they have been unable to get information from the White House.
Trump’s remarks Tuesday amounted to a presidential mop-up operation a day after he stood alongside Putin on foreign soil and sided with the Russian president over the U.S. intelligence community.
“They said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said Monday of U.S. intelligence officials, including ones he appointed. “I have [asked] President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. … I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. 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.”
His NATO-UK-Putin trip was dominated by the president himself slamming American allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May, while also reportedly threatening that the U.S. would distance itself from the alliance if NATO members didn’t spend more on defense. But his performance during the Putin summit was dubbed by Republicans and Democrats alike as one of the biggest blunders of his presidency.
“We value the NATO treaty. It’s been the most significant military alliance in world history,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday of Senate Republicans. “We believe the European Union countries are our friends and the Russians are not.”
Watch: What Summit? A Muted GOP Response, Then Back to Business on the Hill
“Look, yesterday was uncalled for, unacceptable and was damaging to our standing in the world — but certainly damaging to just who we are,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “And it really strengthened Putin. It was just, watching that take place on the stage it took place on was really disappointing.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Trump “cowered before” the Russian strongman, added the “president sided with the enemy, and House Republicans have sided with the enemy, too.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., summed up many lawmakers’ thoughts during a Fox News interview minutes before Trump spoke: “Man, we were weak yesterday on the world stage.”