Trump says Russia doesn’t pose threat, contradicting intelligence director

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE on Wednesday said Russia does not pose a threat to the United States, contradicting his director of national intelligence on a critical security issue and deepening a political controversy that began at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump, besieged with criticism over his perceived deference to Putin at the summit, for a second day sought to do damage control on the crisis, stating that no one had been tougher than he on Russia.

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“There has never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been," Trump told reporters before a Cabinet meeting at the White House. 

The president said his administration is “doing very well” in countering Russia, citing U.S. sanctions on Moscow and the expulsion of Russian nationals accused of being spies. 

“I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media. He understands it, and he's not happy about it,” Trump said.

But seconds later, Trump said “no” when asked if Russia still poses a threat to the U.S. 

 
 
 
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That comment undercut his own director of national intelligence, Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall Is Putin attacking Sanders, Harris and Warren to help Trump? Dems demand briefing, intel on North Korea nuclear talks MORE, who said after Trump's Helsinki press conference that Russia's hostile activities against the U.S. and its allies are “ongoing.” 

Coats also underscored the intelligence agencies' worry that Russia is prepared to interfere with this fall's midterm elections. 

“We have been clear in our assessment of Russian meddling in our 2016 elections and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” Coats said in a statement.

Trump's latest comments raised doubts about his commitment to combating Moscow's efforts to do so, a top concern of U.S. officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. 

Those fears were inflamed on Monday when Trump, standing beside Putin after their meetings, suggested he gave equal weight to the Russian leader's denial of election meddling and the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence agencies that the meddling occurred. 

“My people came to me ... they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. 

The president's comments set off an international furor, which Trump sought to clean up on Tuesday by claiming he misspoke and meant to say, “I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.”

The president also said he accepts the intelligence agencies' assertion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but raised doubts about his sincerity by adding that it “could be other people.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill pounced on Trump's latest comments, claiming they provide even more evidence that the president is too close to Putin. 

“Mr. President. Walk this back too,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.) tweeted in response to Trump's claim that Russia is no longer targeting the U.S.

It was clear Wednesday that the negative media coverage of Trump's meeting with Putin has bothered him. 

Trump sat with his arms folded when speaking about the issue during the Cabinet meeting. When asked whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., the president indicated he did not want to answer by telling reporters "thank you" before quietly saying the word “no.”

The president also argued that his “very historic” trip to Europe, which included contentious meetings with NATO allies and British Prime Minister Theresa May, had been a “tremendous success.”

“We made tremendous progress toward achieving greater peace, prosperity and security for allies, in fact, for the entire world,” he said. 

He also sought to shift the focus onto different topics, saying the U.S. economy is “thriving and booming like never before” and previewing an administration announcement on a workforce development initiative with his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTrump, Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, Charlie Kirk among Twitter's most-engaged users Ivanka must recalibrate her paid family leave plan to make it tenable Four names emerge for UN position: report MORE

Several GOP lawmakers and Trump allies have indicated the president's cleanup efforts satisfied their concerns, but many others have indicated they are not ready to move on. 

A bipartisan group of senators are readying legislation that would slap new sanctions on Moscow if Russia interferes in the 2018 midterm elections. 

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he is calling Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall Dems demand briefing, intel on North Korea nuclear talks Pompeo: US will not share information with countries using Huawei systems MORE to testify before his panel next week to discuss Trump's meeting with Putin. 

--Updated at 1:47 p.m.