- US President Donald Trump said Saturday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin did not interfere in the 2016 election.
- Trump also cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings that Russia launched an elaborate and multi-faceted campaign to meddle in the election.
- The CIA released a statement shortly after in which CIA director Mike Pompeo emphasised that he stood by the intelligence community’s assessment.
The US Central Intelligence Agency released a statement on Saturday in which CIA director Mike Pompeo diverged from President Donald Trump on the issue of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Trump said that Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted during a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that Russia did not interfere in the election, and that he believed the Russian leader.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
He added that whenever they had met, Putin denied ordering Russia’s election meddling. “I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said. “But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
The CIA’s statement following Trump’s remarks said Pompeo “stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.”
“The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed,” the statement continued. The agency did not comment directly on Trump’s remarks.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s interference. In December, following the CIA’s initial assessment that the Kremlin had launched an elaborate and multi-faceted campaign aimed at undermining the election and propelling Trump to victory, his transition team released a statement questioning the agency’s findings.
“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the Trump transition team said in a statement in December. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and “Make America Great Again.'”
After they met for the first time on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in July, both the White House and the Kremlin acknowledged that Trump and Putin had discussed Russia’s interference in the election.
Following the meeting, secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Trump and Putin had a “robust and lengthy exchange” on the subject.
“The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson told reporters. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.”
But the Kremlin said during a separate press briefing held at the same time that Trump had accepted Putin’s denials of Russian meddling.
“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements,” said Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. “That’s all.”
Trump and several of his close associates are being investigated by congressional intelligence committees and the FBI over whether they colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favour. Trump is also being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice related to his decision to fire then FBI director James Comey in May. At the time, Comey was spearheading the bureau’s Russia investigation.
The White House initially said Comey was fired because of his handling of the investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business. Later, however, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that “this Russia thing” had been a factor in his decision to fire Comey.
Trump also reportedly called Comey a “nut job” during an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s former ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. He allegedly added that firing Comey had taken “great pressure” off of him.
Trump lashed out at Comey again on Saturday, as well as other former top intelligence officials including former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks,” Trump said of the three men. “So you look at it, I mean, you have Brenna, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them.”