Trump seeks to quell Russia furor

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE on Tuesday sought to quell criticism of his extraordinary remarks at a press conference a day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump also claimed he misspoke on election meddling during his meeting with Putin, saying he meant to say that he sees no reason why Russia would not be responsible.

ADVERTISEMENT

On Monday, asked if he believed Russia meddled in the election, Trump said: “I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.”

A day later, after coming under intense pressure from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and a number of voices in conservative media, Trump said he should have said, “I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.”

“It should have been obvious,” he added. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things.”

But the president also muddled the walk-back by saying that “other people” also could have been involved in the meddling, a statement similar to remarks he has made in the past casting doubt on Moscow’s involvement.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said, reading from a prepared statement before a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House.

Then, in an unscripted moment, the president added: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

The initial remarks served as a vote of confidence for U.S. intelligence agencies that had been undermined when Trump at the press conference put equal stock in their findings and Putin’s denial that Russia interfered with the election.

“I have full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies, always have,” the president said.

But in the same breath, Trump repeated his claim “there [was] no collusion” between his campaign and Russia’s election interference efforts, a matter that is still under investigation by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.

Trump wrote the words “there was no collusion” in black marker on a sheet with his prepared remarks.

The remarks from the White House were intended to quickly end a controversy that had sucked up all of the media’s attention and rattled Republicans months ahead of the midterm elections.

Republicans on Capitol Hill were surrounded by reporters asking questions about Trump’s performance on Tuesday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) took the step of reassuring NATO allies that the U.S. was with them.

“We value the NATO treaty,” McConnell declared at a weekly press conference.

“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” he continued. “We understand the Russian threat.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders advised reporters on Tuesday afternoon that the president would address them ahead of a meeting with House Republican tax writers.

New White House communications chief Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, was among a group of high-level staff members in the room for the president’s remarks. The controversy surrounding the summit served as his first crisis on the job.

Trump’s attempted turnaround is unlikely to end criticism from Democrats and other critics of his foreign trip, which hit a crescendo with the Putin press conference.

Some cast doubt on the sincerity of Trump’s latest comments.

“I don’t accept the president’s comments today," said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is probing Russia’s election interference, adding, “He should have had the strength to make them in front of Vladimir Putin.”

Warner likened Trump’s response to his initial walk-back of his comments blaming “both sides” for racially charged violence at last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which he took back days later.

“I give these comments about 24 hours before he once again slams the investigation, before he once again sides with authoritarians like Vladimir Putin,” Warner said.

Trump’s cleanup operation seemed more likely to quiet conservatives such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump ally who said he made the worst mistake of his presidency with his press conference performance, as well as rank-and-file Republicans eager to smooth over their divides and focus on attacking Democrats ahead of the midterms.

“I take him at his word if he says he misspoke, absolutely,” Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (R-Ohio) said on Fox News in response to Trump’s latest comments. 

Portman previously criticized Trump’s remarks after meeting with Putin. 

Trump allies have sought to emphasize the administration’s actions with regards to Russia, rather than Trump’s remarks.

After Trump spoke on Tuesday, the White House distributed a press release that said Trump “is protecting our elections and standing up to Russia’s malign activities,” citing a litany of sanctions against Moscow and preparations being made for the 2018 midterm races.

In the day following the Putin meeting, Trump did not indicate he misspoke, including during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity and in eight subsequent tweets.

Virtually all of the president’s post-summit remarks have shown no sign he was interested in clarifying or take back his initial comments.

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that his meeting with the Russian leader was “even better” than his summit with NATO allies.

And during his interview with Hannity, Trump blamed “very unfair” media coverage for how poorly his Europe trip was received.

Trump’s refusal to budge only heightened the sense of alarm on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers stressed Trump’s press conference performance undercut U.S. officials and provided a propaganda victory for Putin.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (R-Tenn.), a critic of Trump’s handling of Russia, announced plans for Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' Pompeo backed continued US support in Yemen war over objections from staff: report Pompeo’s staff cracks down on ‘correct use of commas’ at State Dept MORE to testify before the panel next week to discuss the Putin summit.