President Donald Trump on Tuesday moved to limit the damage from his summit with Vladimir Putin, claiming he misspoke in appearing to accept the Russian leader’s denial of election meddling — in a rebuke to US intelligence chiefs.
At their meeting in Helsinki on Monday, Trump failed to challenge Putin over the 2016 presidential election, seeming to accept at face value the strongman’s denial that Moscow interfered in a bid to undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
But faced with outrage at home, with even some of his political allies demanding that he reverse course, Trump — in an extraordinary postscript to the summit — sought to walk back his remarks.
Trump said he accepted the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had meddled in the election, and offered a rambling explanation of his assertion that he could not see “any reason” why Russia would interfere.
“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’,” Trump said, speaking at the White House ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” he added — repeating the laborious clarification several times.
But while the US leader expressed his “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” he insisted that “Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election.”
And he again floated the idea that “other people” could be involved.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer was quick to pounce.
“President Trump tried to squirm away from what he said yesterday. It’s 24 hours too late, and in the wrong place,” Schumer said.