Donald Trump believes US intelligence claims Russia meddled in election, but slams Putin ‘haters’
Trump said he thinks it’s time for the United States to move on from the controversy surrounding Russian election interference
Donald Trump said Sunday he backed US intelligence agencies who concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, but repeated his trust in the sincerity of Vladimir Putin’s denials and slammed critics of his relationship with the Russian leader.
Key former Trump aides are under US investigation for possible collaboration with the Kremlin and the issue of whether Moscow interfered with last year’s vote has overshadowed the tail end of the president’s ongoing Asia tour.
Trump returned to the subject in an early morning Twitter storm, which also saw him take a sarcastic dig at North Korea’s “short and fat” leader Kim Jong-un.
Addressing a press conference in Hanoi, Trump was asked to clarify comments he had made on Air Force One the day before about Putin’s insistence that Moscow had never tried to affect the outcome of the US vote.
“I believe he feels he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said.
“As to whether or not I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies. I believe in our … intelligence agencies,” he added.
In May, US intelligence chiefs told Congress they agreed with their analysts’ conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election.
CIA director Mike Pompeo, who was appointed by Trump, said he still believed in that evaluation in a statement to CNN Saturday.
Earlier Sunday, Trump tweeted that only “haters and fools” can’t see the benefits of a good relationship with Russia.
“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” the US president said Saturday after meeting the Russian leader briefly on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam.
“I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget. All he said was he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Hanoi.
Trump instead called the accusations about Russia “an artificial Democratic hit job” that makes it harder to resolve diplomatic issues.
“When will all the haters and fools out there realise that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!” he wrote on Twitter.
When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
Trump has previously dismissed the conclusions of multiple US intelligence officials that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election in an effort to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately to help him win, saying “political hacks” led some of those agencies.
Trump called James Comey, whom he fired as FBI director in May, a “liar” and a “leaker”.
Despite Trump’s campaign pledge to improve battered relations, ties between the two cold war foes have become more tense during his first year in office after the US tightened sanctions in response to alleged Russian election interference.
Russia responded with US diplomatic expulsions and the sides have since struggled to make progress on most issues.
Speaking in Da Nang, Vietnam, Putin said he has a “good rapport” with Trump.
“It’s important that we find an opportunity, with our teams, to sit down at the level of presidents and talk through our complex relations,” Putin said.
“Our relations are still in crisis. Russia is ready to turn the page and move on.”
In his Apec press conference, Putin dismissed the accusations of election meddling as “political infighting” in the US.
Following their brief talks in Vietnam, Putin and Trump issued a joint statement in which they agreed to support a political reconciliation in Syria, while maintaining the existing two-nation communication channels used to fight Islamic State.
Current and former US officials and lawmakers reacted on Saturday.
“There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community,” Senator John McCain said in a statement.
The Arizona Republican, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added that there’s “no ‘principled realism’ in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime,” a reference to the joint Trump-Putin statement issued Saturday about a political reconciliation in Syria.
“Putin does not have America’s interests at heart”.
Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said in a Twitter post that Trump “believes a KGB agent but not his own CIA? Not good.”
“Putin is trained in deception. The KGB (FSB/SVR) are pros at it. That our president doesn’t understand this basic fact is frightening,” said McFaul, now a political-science professor at Stanford University.
Trump’s comments also drew a swift response from Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“The president fools no one,” Schiff said.
“He understands that the Russians intervened through the hacking and dumping of his opponent’s emails, the fruits of which he exploited time and again on the campaign trail.”
Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg