WASHINGTONÂ â€“Â Seeking toÂ quell the furor over his apparent embrace of Vladimir Putin, President Trump said Tuesday he acceptsÂ the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russians interfered with the 2016 election â€“Â but added that others could have been involved as well.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took placeÂ â€“ could be other people also,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“A lot of people out there,” he said.
Trump spokeÂ before a meeting with Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee that came a day after he faced bipartisan criticism for pro-Putin comments followingÂ Monday’s summit in Helsinki.
The president said both the U.S. and Russia were to blame for frosty relations and he accepted Putin’s denial of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election over the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people,” Trump said Monday in Helsinki with the Russian president at his side, “but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
During his walk-back attempt at the White House,Â Trump said he misspoke during his news conference with Putin, and that he meant to say he saw no reason why it “wouldn’t”Â be Russia that interfered in the election.
Citing “aÂ key sentence in my remarks,” Trump claimed, “IÂ said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’ …Â The sentence should have been. ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t,’Â or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia.'”
According toÂ the press conference transcript TrumpÂ said,Â “I have President Putin; he just said itâ€™s not Russia.Â Â
“I will say this: I donâ€™t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.”Â
Trump also claimed that Russian activity had “no impact at all” on his Electoral College victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s critics, meanwhile,Â showed no signs of backing down.
President Donald Trump on Monday said “it’s a shame” that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin were being asked questions at their summit in Helsinki about the Russia probe while they were trying to discuss issues like Syria and nuclear proliferation. (July 17)
Lawmakers from both parties discussed possible legislation to counter some of the president’s moves, ranging from restricting tariff authority to placing more sanctions on Russia if they interfere with the 2018 congressional elections or the 2020 presidential contest.
“We understand the Russian threat and I think that is the widespread view here in the United States Senate among members of both parties,”Â said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in discussing possible sanctions legislation againstÂ Putin’s government.
â€œItÂ really better not happen again in 2018,” he said later.
At the White House, Trump said his administration is doing “everything in our power” to prevent Russian interference in the 2018 balloting, and “we have a lot of power.”
Congressional Democrats mocked what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York described as Trump’s attempt to “squirm away” from his Monday comments. “If the president canâ€™t say directly to President Putin that he is wrong and we are right and our intelligence agencies are right, itâ€™s ineffective, and worse, another sign of weakness,” Schumer said.
Democrats, and some Republicans, also want to know what Trump and Putin discussed in secret for some two hours on Monday.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced Tuesday it is ready to implement an international security agreement that Putin and Trump reached, but it did not specify what it was.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who had joked that Putin probably celebrated the Trump meeting with caviar, applauded the bipartisan criticism of the American president.
“As the president taxes Americans with tariffs, he pushes away our allies and further strengthens Putin,” tweeted Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.Â “It is time for Congress to step up and take back our authorities.”Â
More: Trump accepts Putin’s denials of election meddling, prompting outrage from Congress
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Earlier Tuesday, Trump blamed the media for misinterpreting his remarks in Helsinki andÂ defended theÂ Putin news conferenceÂ by citing the thoughts of a rare supporter who stuck up for him:Â Sen. Rand Paul.
“Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!” Trump tweeted, citing a comment by the Kentuckian that “the President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations – whatâ€™s he supposed think?â€
Paul was one of the few Republicans to defend the president after he accepted Putin’s denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials that Russians hacked Democratic officials and pushed phony news to help Trump.
While taking Putin’s side, Trump also condemned the ongoing investigation of Russia as a “disaster” driving a wedge between the United States and Russia.
Even supporters of Trump were dismayed by the Putin news conference, which capped off a European trip in which he criticized NATO and described the European Union as a “foe.”
Many Republicans noted that Putin has long sought to divide western countries he sees as rivals, and Trump’s comments played into that Russian agenda.
When asked, McConnell refusedÂ to critique Trump’s performance by name. But the Senate Republican leader told reporters on Capitol Hill that he wants to deliver a message from Congress to NATO and the EU: U.S. allies are well aware of the threat from Moscow.
In both houses of Congress, RepublicansÂ blasted the Trump-Putin summit and distanced themselves from Trump’s assertion in Helsinki that both the U.S. and Moscow were to blame for international friction.
Pushing back against the White House in unusually strong terms, House Speaker Paul Ryan described Putinâ€™s Russia as a â€œmenacing governmentâ€ and said he had no doubt that the Kremlin attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
â€œRussia is trying to undermine democracy itself, to de-legitimize democracy, so for some reason they can look good by comparison,â€ Ryan told reporters.
Trump again defended his meeting with Putin during his comments at the White House, saying he and his Russian counterpart discussed ways to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.
The latest dispute over Trump and Russia comes less than a week after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen RussiansÂ on charges involving election interference.
Mueller’s team is also investigating any links between Russian hackers and Trump’s presidential campaign, though Trump has denied any sort of collusion.
He repeated that claim during Tuesday’s post-Putin comments, saying “there was no collusion at all.”
At one point,Â the lights in the Cabinet Room went out momentarily before returning.
“Whoops, they just turned off the lightsÂ â€“Â that must be the intelligence agencies,” Trump joked.
As the lights flicked back on, he said: “There we go, OK?Â You guys OK? Good …Â That was strange.”
More: Republican in heart of Ohio’s Trump country resigns over summit with Putin
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More: Full transcript of Trump-Putin presser: World leaders punt claims of election meddling
More: President Trump blames media for criticism over Putin news conference
More: The 10 strongest statements from GOP lawmakers to President Trump: Russia is not our friendÂ
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Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
â€œI disagree with the presidentâ€™s comments. There is simply no comparing the actions of the United States and Vladimir Putin. While the United States promotes democracy and human rights, Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine, backed Assadâ€™s gas attacks on the Syrian people, and used cyber-attacks and propaganda campaigns to undermine our democracy. Putinâ€™s actions, and his alone, are why U.S.-Russia relations are at a low point.
â€œAs we approach the November midterm elections, it is critical that Putin understand he will pay a steep price for any further interference in our democratic process. Congress has provided important tools to hold Russia accountable for its meddling. The administration needs to use them to the fullest extent.â€Â
MOLLY RILEY, SEPT, 8, 2015 FILE PHOTO BY AP
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“Russia is not our friend. Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans,” Gowdy said in a statement. “I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.”Â
MANUEL BALCE CENETA, JULY,12, 2018 PHOTO BY AP
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