For the second time this week, President Donald Trump publicly went against the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community with respect to Russian efforts to undermine election activities in the United States, as the President shot down a question about whether Russia was still engaged in activities like their 2016 interference in the U.S. elections.
“Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?” a reporter asked, as the President wrapped up a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
“Thank you very much. No,” President Trump said firmly as he shook his head, giving an answer that again runs counter to what American intelligence agencies have been warning for months, that Russia is looking for a repeat of their 2016 interference efforts.
Three hours later, the White House disputed that, maintaining the President was saying, ‘No’ to answering questions from the press – even though he went on to answer questions from reporters.
After saying ‘no’ – whether to the question about Russia targeting the U.S., or that he didn’t want to answer questions, the President then answered another reporter’s question, and said several times that he has been tough on Russia.
“There’s never been a President as tough on Russia as I have been,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, especially the media.”
On Monday, after Mr. Trump had seemingly sided with the denial of Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference in Finland, the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, quickly issued a statement reiterating that the U.S. firmly believes Russia meddled in the 2016 election, noting “their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Mr. Trump then clarified his comments on Tuesday, in a statement read to reporters – but Wednesday’s remarks seemed to take him back to square one – where the President argues that the Russians are not coming after the U.S.
The President’s answer puts him squarely at odds as well with many in both parties in the Congress, who fully believe that Russia is still actively engaged in efforts to meddle with the 2018 and 2020 elections in the United States.
“OMG. OMG. OMG,” wrote Michael Hayden on Twitter, a former Director of the CIA and National Security Agency.
“Mr. President. Walk this back too,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.
“Trump lying to the American people,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), “denying Russia is targeting our elections.”