- The Trump administration has had quite a week on an array of issues, but especially the topic of Russian election interference.
- Trump has contradicted both himself and his advisers on this issue over the course of the week.
- The Trump administration generally seems to accept that meddling occurred, but the president has questioned whether it was solely Russia that carried it out.
- The president and his advisers have also questioned whether Russia interfered to bolster Trump’s chances of winning.
- The US intelligence community concluded Russia interfered in the election, under the direction of Putin, to help Trump win.
The Trump administration has had quite a week on an array of issues, but especially the topic of Russian election interference.
President Donald Trump has long expressed doubts as to whether Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, but his alternating statements on this issue were particularly significant this week given his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At times, the president and his advisers contradicted one another on where they stand on this issue, making it difficult to discern where the administration really stands.
Trump in Helsinki on Monday: ‘I don’t see anyreason why’ Russia would interfere in the 2016 election
During a now-infamous press conference with Putin on Monday, Trump said he didn’t see “any reason” why it “would” be Russia who interfered in the US presidential election.
“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump: "My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be." pic.twitter.com/p6kfkGw5pC
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 16, 2018
Subsequently, the president was broadly accused of siding with Putin over the US intelligence community on this issue.
The president also said Putin had been “powerful” in his denial about interfering in the election.
But a declassified report from US intelligence agencies made public in January 2017 states, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”
The report adds, “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
During Monday’s press conference, Trump also once again claimed there’d been no collusion between the Kremlin and his campaign. Putin made similar claims at the time.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Monday: ‘We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling’
After Trump’s performance at the Helsinki press conference, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a forceful statement on where the US intelligence community stands on Russian election interference.
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers,” said Coats, the top US intelligence official. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Trump at the White House on Tuesday: ‘I don’t see anyreason why it wouldn’t be Russia’
After returning to the US, Trump on Tuesday claimed he’d misspoke during his press conference with Putin.
The president said he’d meant to say he didn’t see any reason why it “wouldn’t” have been Russia that interfered in the election.
President Trump: “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia… We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.” pic.twitter.com/ddJcGiJoGI
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 17, 2018
“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,'” Trump said.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,'” he added. “Sort of a double negative.”
Trump further stated he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusion Russia interfered in the election, though he added that it could be “other people also.”
Trump at the White House on Wednesday: Russia is not planning future attacks on US elections
On Wednesday, Trump responded “no” when questioned by a reporter if Russia was planning future attacks on the US electoral system.
This contradicted statements made by Coats earlier in the week.
President Trump responds 'No' when asked if Russia is still targeting the United States pic.twitter.com/oy9xeUI0FM
— Axios (@axios) July 18, 2018
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday: Trump didn’t mean to say Russia isn’t planning attacks
At Wednesday’s press briefing, Sanders said Trump did not claim Russia isn’t planning future attacks on US elections, claiming he was saying “no” to questions from reporters.
“I’m interpreting what the president said, I’m not reversing it,” Sanders told NBC News’s Hallie Jackson. “I was in the room as well and I didn’t take it the way you did.”
"I'm interpreting what the President said. I'm not reversing it…I was interpreting what the President's intention was, and stating the administration's policy." @PressSec Sanders fields inquiries on Trump's response to questions on the threat of Russia https://t.co/F8WgcGc0yq pic.twitter.com/FhtOsiKwqe
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) July 18, 2018
Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday: Russia didn’t interfere to help Trump
During an interview at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Nielsen said she believed the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, but she questioned whether it did so to aid Trump’s chances of winning.
WATCH: "I don't think there's any question in the intel community or at DHS that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system … I don't think there's any doubt that they did it," Sec. Nielsen says at the Aspen Security Forum. pic.twitter.com/NiRvbcCAz9
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 19, 2018
“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favour a particular political party,” Nielsen said.
As noted above, the US intelligence community explicitly concluded that Russia, under the direction of Putin, meddled in the election to bolster Trump’s chances of winning.
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