WASHINGTON (AP) — Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to clarify his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he had misspoken when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia” instead of “why it would,” Trump said. His comment came — amid rising rebuke by his own party — about 27 hours after his original, widely reported statement, which he made at a Monday summit in Helsinki standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday. But he also added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”
On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia but showed no signs of acting any time soon.
“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “What we intend to do is make sure they don’t get away with it again and also to help our allies.”
In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump’s two-hour private session with Putin.
Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for U.S. elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.
But minority Democrats have few tools to push their priorities.
In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi planned a vote Tuesday in support of the intelligence committee’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, but The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding resolution that amounts to “just some messaging exercise.”
Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the first step was to get Pompeo to appear, “hopefully” next week.
Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.
His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was a stark illustration of Trump’s willingness to upend decades of U.S. foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns. A wary and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party’s world view. But Trump made clear he feels that any acknowledgement of Russia’s election involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.
Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That’s the part he corrected on Tuesday.
His Monday statement drew a quick rebuttal from his director of national Intelligence, Dan Coats.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said.