President Trump on Tuesday attempted to calm the fallout from his controversial Monday morning press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin, backtracking from his refusal to endorse the American intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election.
In remarks to reporters before a closed-door meeting with GOP congressional leaders, Trump claimed that he misspoke when he said, at Monday’s press conference, that he could not see why Russia would be responsible for meddling in the American election, asserting that he instead meant to say he couldn’t see why Russia wouldn’t be responsible.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” he told reporters. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”
During Monday’s extraordinary joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Trump had appeared to accept the Russian president’s denial of election interference, sparking criticism among even some of the U.S. commander-in-chief’s staunchest supporters.
“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said of Putin’s denials, after a reporter at the press conference asked him about the issue of election interference. “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,” he added.
Tuesday’s backpedaling followed more than 24 hours of of almost universal condemnation of the president’s performance in Helsinki, which prominent figures on both sides of the aisle called an “embarrassment,” “shameful,” and even “treasonous.”
Senator Rand Paul emerged as one of the only defenders of Trump’s comments, and rebuked critics for being unfair to the president.
“When President Reagan met with Gorbachev do you think he listed the litany of Soviet abuses from Stalin on in a one to one meeting?” Paul said. “No, they were listed and recounted by other people in the administration. There’ve also been people within the Trump administration who have listed and recounted the human-rights violations in Russia.”