After twice siding with Russia’s President over claims of election meddling, and twice clarifying his position, Donald Trump now says he holds Vladimir Putin personally responsible for Moscow’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election.
Earlier Wednesday, the White House was forced to clarify Mr Trump’s stance on Russian interference after the President appeared say ‘no’ when asked by a reporter if Russian hackers were still targeting the US.
That apparent backflip came a day after the President dramatically backed down in the face of near universal condemnation of his Helsinki summit with Mr Putin, saying he “misspoke” when he supported his Russian counterpart’s denials of election interference.
Speaking to CBS, Mr Trump said he would consider Mr Putin culpable in Russian hacking because he’s the country’s leader.
“I would because he’s in charge of the country just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” he said.
“So certainly as the leader of the country you would have to hold him responsible.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 18, 2018
At a joint news conference with Mr Putin after their summit Tuesday morning (AEST), Mr Trump stunned both Democratic and Republican politicians by apparently siding with Mr Putin against American intelligence agencies.
High-ranking Republican politicians branded Mr Trump’s comments a “disgrace” and “shameful”, while a former CIA director called them “treasonous”.
When pressed in his CBS interview on whether his acceptance of the US intelligence assertions of Russian interference meant that he thought Mr Putin lied when denying any involvement, Mr Trump said he “didn’t want to get into whether or not he’s lying”.
I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted.”
Mr Trump said gave a “very strong” warning to Mr Putin against future interference during their meeting in Helsinki.
“I let him know we can’t have this. We’re not going to have it. And that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.
Mr Trump made a stunning reversal on Wednesday morning in a bid to counter the mounting criticism.
“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’,” the President told reporters after a meeting with Congress at the White House.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative,” Mr Trump explained, saying he had reviewed a transcript and video of his Helsinki remarks.
“I think that probably clarifies things pretty good on itself,” he added.
At the joint news conference in the Finnish capital, Mr Trump had said: “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia who interfered in the election.
White House spokesman Sarah Sanders on Wednesday morning was forced to clarify Mr Trump’s stance after the President again contradicted his own intelligence agencies on Moscow’s meddling in US affairs.
Asked by reporters before a Cabinet meeting whether Russia was still involved in targeting the US, the President shook his head and said “no”.
Ms Sanders told a media conference later that she spoke with Mr Trump about his answer and claimed the President was merely declining to answer shouted questions when he gave his answer.
“The President said thank you very much and said ‘no’ to answering questions,” she said.
“The President and his administration are working very hard to make sure Russia is unable to meddle in our elections,” Ms Sanders added, 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,” she said.