Trump seeks to quell Russia furor

President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey 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.


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 (Bob) 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 McConnellElection agency limps into 2020 cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration 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 WarnerDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill 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 PortmanSherrod Brown asks Trump Fed pick why he referred to Cleveland, Cincinnati as 'armpits of America' Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller GOP senator wears shirt honoring Otto Warmbier at Korean DMZ 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 CorkerEx-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' Pollster says Trump unlikely to face 'significant' primary challenge GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump MORE (R-Tenn.), a critic of Trump’s handling of Russia, announced plans for Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS embassy in Sri Lanka warns against visiting places of worship Kim Jong Un's 'long yet necessary road' toward reaffirming alliances The Hill's Morning Report - Trump tells House investigators 'no' MORE to testify before the panel next week to discuss the Putin summit.