Trump’s evolving remarks on Russian election interference

President Trump this week acknowledged for the first time that Russian forces tried to aid his path to victory in 2016.

He then immediately walked back the comment, mirroring a number of other occasions when the president has addressed Russian election interference.

Trump has repeatedly muddied the waters of his administration’s stance on Russia, even while his White House press secretary has acknowledged and the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia attempted to hack the election.{mosads}

In the example on Thursday, Trump wrote on Twitter that Russia “has disappeared [as an issue] because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”

He then almost immediately told reporters outside the White House that “Russia did not get me elected,” contradicting his tweet.

Here’s a look back at how the president’s public statements on Russian election meddling have evolved over the past few years:

September 2016: ‘It could be a 400-pound hacker’

In one of his first remarks on the issue, then-candidate Trump dismissed the conclusion that Russia was behind the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee at the first 2016 general election debate.

“I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke into DNC,” Trump told Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the crowd.{mosads}

December 2016: ‘Ridiculous’ conclusions

President-elect Trump called “ridiculous” reports that the CIA concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win the presidency.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse I don’t believe it,” Trump told Fox News. “I don’t know why and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College. No I don’t believe that at all.”

January 2017: ‘I think it was Russia’

President-elect Trump said just days before his inauguration that “as far as hacking, I think it was Russia” who targeted Democrats during the 2016 election.

In the same speech, he appeared to minimize Russian involvement in hacking attempts, claiming that other countries carry out the same attacks on the U.S.

“I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” he continued.

“When we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China. We had much hacking going on,” Trump said, referring to a hack targeting the Office of Personnel Management.

July 2017: ‘It could have been a lot of people’

Trump told reporters before a joint summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Warsaw, Poland, that “nobody knows for sure” whether Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party-affiliated groups during the 2016 election.

“I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been [that] a lot of people interfered,” he said. “It was Russia. And I think it was probably others also.”

The president later claimed he had pressed Russia’s leader on whether he was involved in election interference efforts and Putin denied it.

“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it,” Trump tweeted at the time. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”

October 2017: Russia colluded with Hillary Clinton

In a tweet sent in October 2017, Trump asserted that it was “commonly” understood that his campaign had not colluded with Russia’s government in 2016, adding that “HC,” apparently referring to Clinton, had actually worked with Russia in 2016.

“It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!” he wrote.

November 2017: ‘I’m with our agencies’

Addressing concerns that he believed Putin’s denials that Russia was involved in election interference, Trump said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia attempted to hack the 2016 election.

“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” he said at a press conference in Vietnam.

February 2018: ‘The results of the election were not impacted’

In February 2018, after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and entities over their role in election interference, Trump asserted that Russian efforts to meddle in U.S. politics began in 2014, long before his political career.

March 2018: ‘Certainly’ there was meddling

Trump in March asserted that while Russia did attempt to hack the election, it had no impact on the vote count.

“The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever, but, certainly, there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals,” Trump said at the White House.{mossecondads}

He went on to say his administration was watching to make sure foreign governments did not make a similar attempt again.

“And I think you have to be really watching very closely,” he said. “You don’t want your system of votes to be compromised in any way. And we won’t allow that to happen.” 

July 2018: Putin’s denial was ‘strong’ but Russia’s meddling ‘took place’

In a press conference with Putin, Trump said despite the intelligence community’s findings, Putin was convincing in his denial of meddling.

“They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said at a press conference with Putin.

“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump added. “So, 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.”

When he later spoke to reporters and addressed criticism of his previous statements, Trump said he’s said “many times” that he believes Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” he said, then added: “It could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”

August 2018: Trump again question Russian involvement, suggests Chinese involvement

In August, Trump claimed on Twitter that Chinese intelligence agents had been involved in hacking Hillary Clinton’s private email server used during her time at the State Department.

“China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private Email Server,’ Are they sure it wasn’t Russia (just kidding!)? What are the odds that the FBI and DOJ are right on top of this? Actually, a very big story. Much classified information!” he tweeted.

September 2018: Trump again raises possibility of Clinton involvement in collusion with Russia

The president quoted Fox News contributor Sarah Carter in late 2018 on Twitter, writing that “every day we get more documentation showing collusion between the FBI & DOJ, the Hillary campaign, foreign spies & Russians.”

March 2019: Mueller found no one ‘conspired or coordinated with the Russian Government’

In response to Mueller’s final findings on the Russia investigation, Trump tweeted a line of the report that acknowledged Russian interference.

“The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump Campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian Government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump Campaign,” he tweeted.

May 2019: Russia ‘did not help me get elected’

In a tweet, the president wrote that Russia, as an issue, “has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”

The message appeared to be the first direct admission from the president that his campaign benefited, even indirectly, from Russian efforts to sabotage Clinton’s campaign.

Just twenty minutes after making that admission, Trump rescinded it in comments to reporters outside the White House, telling assembled journalists that Russia did not help him get elected.

“No, Russia did not help me get elected,” he told reporters before departing a press conference.