Trump Says Believes U.S. Intel on Russian Meddling; Declines to Say Putin Lied

WASHINGTON (Reuters/AP) -
President Donald Trump talks to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

President Donald Trump expressed confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies and their assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 elections in an interview Wednesday, but declined to say whether he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin was lying when he denied Russia was behind the meddling. Trump made the comments in an interview with CBS News.

Trump said he believes that it’s “true” Russia meddled in the election and said he directly warned Putin against interfering in U.S. elections during their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki on Monday. Asked what he said to Putin, Trump responded, “Very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling, we can’t have any of that … I let him know that we can’t have this, we’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Asked whether he held Putin personally responsible for meddling, Trump said he did. “Well, I would, because he’s in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” he said.

Trump also appeared to question whether such statements would have an impact on Russia. “We’re also living in a grown-up world,” he said.

In the interview, Trump said he accepted Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’s assessment that Russia continues to be a threat to U.S. elections.

“He’s an expert, this is what he does, he’s been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats, and if he says that I would accept that. I will tell you though: It better not be, it better not be,” Trump said.

The CBS interview came at the end of two days of shifting statements.

On Monday, Trump appeared to question the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

His reservations, expressed 18 months into his presidency and as he stood standing next to Putin on foreign soil, prompted blistering criticism at home, even from prominent fellow Republicans.

On Tuesday, he delivered a scripted statement to “clarify” — his word — his remarks Monday. He said he misspoke by one word when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House struggled on Wednesday to contain the furor over Trump’s heavily criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, denying Trump ever meant to say that Moscow was no longer targeting the United States in an exchange with reporters earlier in the day.