Trump, seeking to calm political storm
over Putin summit, says he misspoke
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[July 18, 2018]
By Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President
Donald Trump tried on Tuesday to calm a storm over his failure to hold
Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for meddling in the 2016
U.S. election, saying he misspoke in a joint news conference in
Trump stunned the world on Monday by shying away from criticizing the
Russian leader for Moscow's actions to undermine the election and cast
doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies, prompting calls by some U.S.
lawmakers for tougher sanctions and other actions to punish Russia.
"I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" Trump told reporters at
the White House, more than 24 hours after his appearance with Putin.
"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after his news conference with Putin
found that 55 percent of registered U.S. voters disapproved of his
handling of relations with Russia, while 37 percent approved.
Trump, who had the opportunity to publicly rebuke Putin during the news
conference in Helsinki, instead praised the Russian leader for his
"strong and powerful" denial of the conclusions of U.S. intelligence
agencies that the Russian state meddled in the election.
Standing alongside Putin in Helsinki, Trump told reporters he was not
convinced it was Moscow. "I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump
Although he faced pressure from critics, allied countries and even his
own staff to take a tough line, Trump said not a single disparaging word
in public about Moscow on any of the issues that have brought relations
between the two nuclear powers to the lowest ebb since the Cold War.
Republicans and Democrats accused him of siding with an adversary rather
than his own country.
Despite a televised interview and numerous postings to Twitter, Trump
did not correct himself until 27 hours later. Reading mainly from a
prepared statement, Trump said on Tuesday he had complete faith in U.S.
intelligence agencies and accepted their conclusions.
He then veered from his script to hedge on who was responsible for the
election interference: "It could be other people also. There's a lot of
people out there."
His backtracking failed to quell the controversy. Democrats dismissed
Trump's statement as political damage control.
"This has to be recognized for what it is, which is simply an effort to
clean up the mess he made yesterday, which is beyond the capacity of any
short statement to repair," said Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump's comments on Tuesday
were another sign of weakness, particularly his statement that it "could
be other people" responsible for the election meddling.
"He made a horrible statement, tried to back off, but couldn't even
bring himself to back off," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "It shows
the weakness of President Trump that he is afraid to confront Mr. Putin
The political firestorm over Trump's performance in Helsinki
has engulfed the administration and spread to his fellow Republicans,
eclipsing most of the frequent controversies that have erupted during
Trump's turbulent 18 months in office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Russia was
not a friend of the United States and warned against a repeat of
election meddling in November's congressional elections.
"There are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it
really better not happen again in 2018," McConnell said.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump reds from prepared remarks as he speaks about
his summit meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the
start of a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress at the White
House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Some lawmakers said they would seek remedies against Russia in
Several senators from both parties backed tougher sanctions on
Russia. McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called Russia's
government "menacing," said their chambers could consider additional
sanctions on Russia.
Congress overwhelmingly passed a sanctions law last year targeting
Moscow for election meddling. In April, the U.S. Treasury imposed
sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs in one of Washington's
most aggressive moves to punish Moscow.
Even before the allegations of Russian meddling, tensions were high
over Moscow's concerns about NATO expansion, Russian annexation of
the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its military backing
of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.
Some U.S. lawmakers have suggested passing resolutions voicing
support for intelligence agencies, or spending more to enhance
election security and prevent cyber attacks.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, said congressional leaders were searching for
the most effective response.
"We’re trying to figure out what would be an appropriate way to push
back," Corker told reporters. "You know the president can do more
damage in 15 minutes at a press conference than we can undo in six
months of passing resolutions."
Corker said "the first step" would be hearing from U.S. Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo, who will testify next Wednesday before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate Democrats said they wanted the American interpreter at the
Helsinki meeting to testify to Congress on what was said during the
private Trump-Putin session.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that the Russian
government interfered in the 2016 election campaign and sought to
tilt the vote in Trump's favor, which Moscow has denied. Special
Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating that allegation and any
possible collusion by Trump's campaign.
Trump has denied collusion and casts Mueller's probe as a witch hunt
that aims to detract from his election victory.
Not all Republicans were angry with Trump's conduct in Helsinki.
"The president did a good thing by meeting with Putin," Senator Rand
Paul told CBS' "This Morning" program, comments that won him public
thanks from Trump on Twitter.
Russia's political and media establishment heralded the summit as a
victory for Putin in breaking down Western resolve to treat Russia
as a pariah.
"The West's attempts to isolate Russia failed," read the headline in
state-run newspaper Rossiisskaya Gazeta.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting
by Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker, David Alexander; Writing by John
Whitesides; Editing by Mary Milliken, Grant McCool and Peter Cooney)
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