WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump has said that Russia is no longer interfering in U.S. elections, contradicting remarks by his chief of national intelligence who has warned that Russia is continuing to try to influence the 2018 U.S. congressional elections.
The White House later repudiated reports about Trump’s statement, saying that his answer to a reporter’s question had been misconstrued.
Trump’s remarks after a cabinet meeting on July 18 also appeared to contradict his own comments made a day earlier when he said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign and was planning to again in November.
Trump’s statement on the subject came as journalists were being ushered out of the cabinet meeting and Cecilia Vega, a reporter for ABC News, shouted, "Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?"
Trump responded: "Thank you very much. No," looking at the reporter and shaking his head. Vega asked again: "No, you don’t believe that to be the case?" Trump again said, "No."
WATCH: Video of the cabinet meeting (Trump’s remarks to reporters begin around the 43:25 mark)
Trump then continued to respond to reporters’ questions about Russia, saying no president has been as “tough” on Russia as he has been and citing U.S. sanctions against Moscow and actions in Syria.
A few hours later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders sought to clarify Trump’s remarks, saying that he was only saying "no" to taking questions from the press. Sanders said the White House believes "the threat [from Russia] still exists, which is why we are taking steps to prevent it."
Trump has faced sharp criticism from U.S. lawmakers — including key Republicans — and others who denounced his performance at a July 16 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin following their meeting in Helsinki.
In Helsinki, Trump appeared to give credence to denials by Putin that his country had interfered in the U.S. elections or was planning to do so in the future, despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies and congressional committees that Moscow intervened in the 2016 presidential campaign with its own state-directed campaign of e-mail hacking and public opinion manipulation.
Many concluded that Russia interfered with a goal of helping Trump’s campaign and hurting his rival, Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.
Facing a wave of criticism, Trump on July 17 appeared to backtrack on his summit comments, saying he accepted the intelligence community’s conclusions but insisting that Russia’s actions did not have any impact on the outcome of the vote. He added that "other people also" could have interfered.
Dan Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told Congress in February that he had seen evidence Russia was targeting the November 2018 elections.
In that vote, all seats in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be contested, as will many seats in the Senate and many state and local positions.
With reporting by Russia, AP, and The New York Times
Source: Radio Free Europe