The White House has been forced to clarify Donald Trump’s stance on Russian interference after the President again contradicted his own intelligence agencies on Moscow’s meddling in US affairs.
A day after he tried to quiet a political uproar over his failure to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Helsinki summit over meddling in the 2016 election, Mr Trump told reporters Russia was not targeting the US.
“We’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there’s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia,” Mr Trump said before a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday morning (AEST).
Asked by reporters whether Russia was still involved in targeting the US, the President shook his head and said “no”.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told a media conference later said she spoke with Mr Trump about his answer and claimed the President was merely declining to answer shouted questions when he said “no”.
“The President said thank you very much and said ‘no’ to answering questions,” Ms Sanders said.
“The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure Russia is unable to meddle in our elections,” she said, indicating Mr Trump does in fact believe Russia poses a current threat.
“We certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can’t do it again,” Ms Sanders said.
The original Trump exchange:
Reporter: “Is Russia still targeting the US, Mr President?”
Mr Trump: “Thank you very much, no.”
Reporter: “No, you don’t believe that to be the case?”
Mr Trump: “Thank you very much everybody. We’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. There’s been no President ever as tough as I have been on Russia.
Is Russia still targeting the US? Trump says, "No." pic.twitter.com/L5ZY9DE4r1
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) July 18, 2018
US intelligence officials have asserted that Russian election interference efforts are continuing and now target the upcoming congressional elections in November.
Mr Trump’s comments followed a series of earlier Twitter posts on Wednesday in which the President said his heavily criticised summit with Mr Putin would eventually produce “big results” and accused his critics of “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.
“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!” the President wrote.
Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2018
Mr Trump has faced bipartisan fury at home since the summit in Finland.
Critics have accused him of siding with Russia over his own country by failing to criticise Moscow for what US intelligence agencies last year described as Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election in an attempt to sow discord, aid Mr Trump’s candidacy and disparage Mr Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Mr Putin has denied allegations of election interference.
Members of Congress from both parties have suggested possible legislation to toughen US sanctions against Russia and enhance election security ahead of November’s midterm voting.
On Twitter, Mr Trump said he had received praise for his news conference with Mr Putin.
“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Mr Trump said on Twitter.
“We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russia’s role in the 2016 election, is looking into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia, an allegation the president denies.