Wednesday, July 18, 2018

President Trump Says He Misspoke at Helsinki Summit (VIDEO)

At LAT, "Facing heavy criticism, Trump now says he misspoke over Putin-friendly remarks":

President Trump, seeking to stanch a national furor, said on Tuesday that he misspoke at his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, and meant to say that he does in fact see Russia as the culprit that interfered in the 2016 election, just as U.S. intelligence agencies have found.

The president's new version was unlikely to satisfy many critics. It is undercut by his full, widely watched remarks on Monday, which gave weight to Putin's denials while criticizing the United States.

To many, Trump had missed his chance to speak truth to power alongside Russia's president. He made his correction to reporters at the White House, as he sat alongside Republican lawmakers.

In his attempt to walk back his remarks in Finland, Trump said he accepts the consensus of American intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election. Yet in a sign that he cannot fully accept those findings — seeing them as a challenge to his election legitimacy — he added that the perpetrators "could be other people also." That assertion is not supported by known intelligence.

At a Helsinki news conference, as Putin looked on, Trump said the following to a reporter's question about whether he believed U.S. intelligence agencies, or Putin's denials of interference: "My people came to me...they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia.

On Tuesday, however, he said this: "The sentence should have been 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be' Russia."

"I have the strongest respect for our intelligence agencies, headed by my people," Trump told the reporters at a hastily scheduled session ahead of his meeting with some House Republicans about additional tax cuts.

He also said, "We're doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018," referring to midterm elections.

Trump afterward ignored questions that reporters shouted, including whether he would criticize Putin, as White House aides pushed them out of the Cabinet room.

The day before, the president had blamed the United States for sour relations with Russia and criticized the FBI, Democrats, Hillary Clinton and the special counsel's investigation of Russia's election activities and possible Trump campaign complicity — all as Putin, occasionally smiling, stood feet away in the Finland presidential palace.

The scene almost instantly drew condemnation as it played out on television screens in the U.S. Trump, who repeatedly praised and deferred to Putin, was criticized by foreign policy and national security veterans as weak, an insult that is particularly galling to him.

In two subsequent interviews with Fox News and in his tweets after the summit, Trump sounded defensive, and more surprised and frustrated by the reaction than contrite. He did not, however, make any attempt to correct his remarks until more than 24 hours later.

"I came back and I said: 'What is going on? What's the big deal?" Trump said Tuesday...