During a press event on Tuesday, President Trump tried to walk back widely-criticized comments he made the day before during a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin about how he believes Putin’s denials of Russian election interference above the consensus conclusion of his own intelligence community.
There was a major problem with Trump’s attempt to walk his comments back, however. After he said that “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” the president immediately indicated he was lying.
“It could be other people also,” Trump said. “There’s a lot of people out there.”
But the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus assessment of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election is unequivocal. It doesn’t say anything about “people out there” playing a role in the hacks and disinformation campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller has already indicted more than two dozen Russian government agents in connection with.
Instead, it says, “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
During another part of Tuesday’s press event, Trump tried to explain away a remark he made during the Putin news conference about how he doesn’t see any reason to disbelieve the Russian strongman’s denials of involvement in 2016 election interference.
“I reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realize there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said. “In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia.'”
In other words, Trump wants people to believe he meant the exact opposite of what he said, which was, “President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump’s baseless comment about how “other people” might have been involved in election interference echoed the infamous comment he made during one of the presidential debates about how a “guy sitting on his bed who weighs 400 pounds” may have been responsible for Democratic hacks, not Russia.
Putin had been in the habit of using that same talking point to deny Russian involvement up until Monday, when he seemed to finally confirm Russian involvement in the hacks of Democratic targets during an interview with Fox News, but downplayed its significance.
“Was it forgery of facts? That the important thing — was this any false information? No,” Putin said. “They hacked an email account and there was information about manipulations to favor one candidate… the party leadership resigned.”