Posts Tagged ‘U.S. intelligence’

Trump’s Russia policy lets Putin ‘punch above his weight’

July 20, 2018

US President Donald Trump faced a deluge of criticism for siding with Vladimir Putin against his own intelligence agencies on Monday before backtracking. After a week of US diplomatic missteps and reversals, only the Russian leader emerged unscathed.

Trump confounded both his backers and his critics on Monday by standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin and announcing that Putin’s “powerful” denials of election meddling had convinced him, despite the US intelligence community’s unanimous assessment that Russian efforts sought to influence the 2016 vote.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people,” Trump told a joint press conference in Helsinki. “But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The US president offered a clear juxtaposition between what his administration has told him and what Putin said privately in their one-on-one meeting in the Finnish capital.

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“[Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others. 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.

His announcement ignited a firestorm of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, including accusations of “treason”.

Republican Senator John McCain said the statement was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a statement, adding: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

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Former director of national intelligence James Clapper called Trump’s statement “an incredible capitulation” while former CIA director John Brennan said on Twitter that it was “nothing short of treasonous”.

John O. Brennan

@JohnBrennan

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

But Trump wasn’t done yet. Putin told the Helsinki press conference that he would allow US investigators probing allegations of Russian election meddling under Special Counsel Robert Mueller to question 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the case last week. But in exchange, Putin wanted Russian officials to interrogate those Americans whom he accuses of involvement in unspecified “illegal actions” on Russian territory, notably prominent Putin critic Bill Browder, former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and others.

“I think that’s an incredible offer,” Trump said, sparking a new round of widespread and bipartisan outrage that Trump would even consider turning Americans – including former diplomats – over to a foreign power for questioning.

By Tuesday the White House was in full defence mode, with Trump telling the press he misspoke in Helsinki regarding Russia’s election interference. When he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, he had actually meant “wouldn’t”.

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’,” Trump said. “Sort of a double negative.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also later backtracked on Putin’s proposal to swap citizens for questioning, saying Thursday that Trump “disagreed” with the plan.

Hours later, Trump risked courting controversy anew by asking staff to invite Putin to Washington in the autumn.

Making Russia great again

Trump’s week of diplomatic U-turns left many observers scratching their heads, wondering if he had an overall strategy for dealing with the Kremlin. Some attributed his compliance to a personal history of relying on Russian money for many of his business ventures. Others have suggested, more darkly, that Trump’s obeisance is linked to Russian attempts to swing the 2016 election in his favour.

Whatever the reason behind it, Trump’s amenable stance on Russia is at odds with the rest of the US establishment, rendering it difficult for the United States to pursue a consistent, coherent policy towards Moscow.

“Most of the US government is hawkish and suspicious of Russia,” observed Dr Jacob Parakilas, deputy head of the US and the Americas Programme at Chatham House. “Congress, which can barely agree on anything across party lines these days, has repeatedly passed sanctions against Russia and other related measures by overwhelming, veto-proof margins. There is little to no support for what Trump might call a ‘good relationship’ with Putin in the US military, the intelligence community, or the diplomatic corps.”

And yet Trump, as the head of state, “sees things quite differently and is willing to disregard the advice of virtually everyone in the government he leads”, Parakilas said. “But his power is far from absolute, and he can’t compel them to take his view. That inevitably stands in the way of [policy] coherence.”

Parakilas said that while Trump might not have an overarching plan for his Kremlin policy, “instinctually he wants to lower tensions with Russia and focus on creating a more adversarial economic relationship with the EU and China”.

Such goals may be impossible to realise, however.

“Given what’s arrayed against him internally and externally, I think there’s very little chance of that happening, and I don’t think he has a backup plan,” Parakilas said.

“So he’ll keep trying to find opportunities to ingratiate himself with Putin where he can, but those [efforts] will contribute to growing political blowback at home.”

‘THIS IS A GREAT TRIUMPH FOR PUTIN’

Playing a weak hand

Putin, for his part, has proved his expertise in parlaying relative weakness into strength.

According to James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, the announcement that Putin has been invited to the White House in the autumn is “another win for Kremlin”.

“[I]t once again sets Russia up as a major league power – above and beyond all others really,” Nixey said in an email. “This is in direct contrast to Russia’s direction of travel. It is NOT a modernising, economically improving power. So Russia, once again, punches above its weight.”

As other foreign policy observers have noted, Trump’s seeming acquiescence to the Kremlin is baffling given Russia’s geostrategic importance. The United States has by far the world’s strongest military and the largest GDP, while Russia does not even crack the world’s top 10 economies, according to the World Bank. And yet Trump appears keen to grant Moscow international footing equal to that of Washington.

Russia is geographically sprawling and has a lot of Soviet legacy relationships…” noted political science professor Robert E. Kelly in a Twitter post“[B]ut it’s actually rather sluggish and being surpassed by cleaner, more globalized states you wouldn’t think of as out-running Moscow.”

Russia’s GDP is smaller than that of either Brazil, Italy or Canada, he noted. So for all its nuclear “bluster” and “fatiguing trouble-making” along its perimeter, Russia is “basically a stagnant, over-sized middle power”.

“It’s amazing how well Putin plays a weaker hand than most people recognize,” Kelly wrote.

Robert E Kelly

@Robert_E_Kelly

As Trump rushes to build a Russo-US “special responsibility for maintaining international security,” recall that Russia’s GDP is now smaller than that of Brazil, Italy, Canada, and S Korea, states we normally think of as middle powers. I’m not sure most people realize this; /1

But Russia seems to be taking a long-term view, willing to bide its time to reap any benefits. Moscow is hoping to amass what Nixey called “mini victories” from the US president, always “with the possibility of more substantial victories down the line”.

“The Russians are patient with Trump,” he said, “as they spot opportunity in his weakness and vanity.”

In an analysis for Chatham House, Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Programme, said that for all the surprises on offer in Helsinki, Trump’s Putin meeting could have turned out much worse for America’s European allies.

Trump had “demonstrated his willingness to make sudden unilateral concessions that compromise the security of his allies” at his June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by announcing the suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea, long a point of contention with Pyongyang.

Against this backdrop, there was a real danger that, “left to his own devices, he might have been persuaded by President Putin to do the same in the Baltic states and Poland”, Giles said. And such a move “would have provoked an immediate crisis between the United States and its NATO allies”.

Despite the consternation that followed the Helsinki summit, he wrote, “both the United States and its European allies may have got off lightly”.

AFP

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Clapper: “Badge Of Honor” When Trump Attacks Me, John Brennan, Hayden, Comey — Is something fishy in U.S. intelligence?

July 20, 2018

President Trump ripped former CIA director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, General Hayden, James Comey, and Andrew McCabe as well as Peter Strzok and “his lover” Lisa Page and said that he never had confidence in them in an interview that aired on CBS Evening News.

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Trump specifically called out Brennan and Clapper in the interview with Jeff Glor of CBS News that aired Wednesday night. He called Brennan a “total low-life” and that Clapper had gone “haywire.”

“In the past, no, I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan. I think he’s a total low-life. I have no confidence in Clapper,” Trump told CBS News.

Trump’s comments inspired Clapper to go on CNN late Wednesday evening to respond to the attack.

TRUMP: Well, certainly in the past, it’s been terrible. You look at Brennan, you look at Clapper, you look at Hayden, you look at Comey, you look at McCabe, you look at Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page. You look at other people in the F.B.I. that have been fired, are no longer there.

Certainly I can’t have any confidence in the past. But I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future, because it’s getting to be now where we’re putting our people in. But in the past, no, I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan. I think he’s a total low-life. I have no confidence in Clapper. You know, Clapper wrote me a beautiful letter when I first went to office, and it was really nice.

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CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. FILE photo

And then, all of a sudden, he’s gone haywire because they got to him and they probably got him to say things that maybe he doesn’t even mean. But no, I certainly don’t have confidence in past people. You look at what’s happened. Take a look at all of the shenanigans that have gone on. Very hard to have confidence in that group.

“It’s reached the point, and I think I’m speaking for my case and John Brennan’s. It’s almost a badge of honor when the president sees fit to go after individual private citizens. And I think I can speak, as well, for all of us to say — and I include Jim Comey in this,” Clapper told CNN.

Clapper responded on Wednesday’s The Situation Room, calling the attacks a “badge of honor” for himself and John Brennan.

JAMES CLAPPER, FMR. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLEGENCE: It’s reached the point, and I think I’m speaking for my case and John Brennan’s. It’s almost a badge of honor when the president sees fit to go after individual private citizens. And I think I can speak, as well, for all of us to say — and I include Jim Comey in this. The only reason we’ve spoken out about all of this is our genuine concerns about this president and this presidency and who is assaulting values and institutions and standards of this country, which collectively we’ve spent decades defending.

As for the beautiful letter that I wrote to then President-elect Trump, it was a note that accompanied the first presidential daily briefing he received after he became president-elect. One of the things that I made a point of in that letter was to join him or ask him to abide by, support and protect the principle of truth to power, Which Dan Coats, to his great credit, is doing. And so, anyway, I’ll stop there if you have more questions.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: I do. General Clapper, he’s basically accusing and John Brennan and General Hayden and others of plotting against him during the campaign, while he was running for president, trying to undermine him. I mean, this is the president of the United States making an accusation like that.

CLAPPER: This is an absurd allegation and there’s no basis in facts or evidence for that.

Our concern — and now I’m speaking specifically for Jim Comey and John Brennan and Mike Rogers as well. What’s is it that the Russians were doing to interfere in our political processes?

As I said before, I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in my 60+ years in intelligence but nothing that disturbs me as much as this. So it was about the Russians and there was no intent to undermine President-elect and later President Trump. It’s an absurd allegation.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/07/19/clapper_badge_of_honor_when_trump_attacks_me_john_brennan_hayden_and_comey.html

Three Top FBI Cybersecurity Officials to Retire

July 20, 2018

Departures come as U.S. faces threat of cyberattacks

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Christopher Wray at the Aspen Security Forum
Three top cybersecurity officials are retiring from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, according to people familiar with the matter—departures that come as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country’s security agencies.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials warn that the country is at a “critical point” facing unprecedented cyberthreats, including Russia’s ongoing attacks on the American political system. The retirements also come as the FBI is facing regular criticism from President Donald Trump and his supporters, and is working to attract and retain top cyber talent.

Scott Smith, the assistant FBI director who runs the Bureau’s cyber division, is leaving this month. His deputy, Howard Marshall, also left in recent weeks. Mr. Marshall has accepted a job at Accenture , a consulting firm that is expanding its cybersecurity portfolio. Mr. Smith is also expected to move to the private sector.

David Resch, executive assistant director of the FBI’s criminal, cyber, response and services branch, is departing the bureau as well. Mr. Resch, who was named to his senior post by FBI Director Christopher Wray in April, supervised Mr. Smith and Mr. Marshall.

Additionally, Carl Ghattas, executive assistant director of the FBI’s national security branch, has decided to leave for the private sector. And Jeffrey Tricoli, a senior FBI cyber agent who oversaw a Bureau task force addressing Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. elections, left last month for a senior vice president position at Charles Schwab Corp. , the Journal reported last week.

The FBI confirmed the departures. One U.S. official said more people are expected to leave soon, declining to provide additional names.

Several people familiar with the moves said that while it was abnormal to see so many senior-level people leave at the same time, it wasn’t uncommon for agents to depart after becoming eligible for retirement benefits at age 50. However, Mr. Marshall’s exit was seen as “highly unusual,” according to one person, because he is stepping away before retirement age.

“As I retire after 28 years of government service to transition into the private sector, I have full confidence that under Director Wray’s steadfast leadership, the Bureau will remain the FBI the American people have depended on for 110 years,” Mr. Resch said in a statement provided by the Bureau.

An FBI spokeswoman said the agency had a surge of special-agent hires about 20 years ago, so many senior officials are now hitting the age where they qualify for pensions. The FBI expected a higher level of retirements to continue for the next couple of years, the spokeswoman said.

Some former FBI officials and others close to the Bureau said morale has been damaged by attacks from Mr. Trump and some congressional Republicans, who have criticized the agency for its handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

“One-and-one-half branches of our government appear to be committed to attacking the Bureau, its workforce and its mission on a near-daily basis,” said Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The White House declined to comment.

Mr. Wray on Wednesday disputed any suggestion of flagging morale. The FBI had a special-agent attrition rate of 0.6% this past year, he said, and it receives so many applications annually that it is more selective than Harvard or Yale Universities.

“Would they (FBI agents) prefer not to get criticized? Of course,” Mr. Wray said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. “But at the end of the day, the criticism we care about is the people who know our work.”

An internal FBI survey, obtained and published last week by the Lawfare blog, confirmed that morale overall remained high. But confidence in the vision and ideas of Mr. Wray and his leadership team fell from a year ago, when former Director James Comey was at the helm.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May 2017. Mr. Wray on Wednesday noted the survey was taken shortly after he arrived last year.

Some former FBI officials said the pull of leaving was especially strong within the cyber division, which must compete with lucrative salaries and flexible lifestyles offered by technology firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

Others cited bureaucratic frustrations. “There’s an internal tension in terms of how to staff cyber properly,” said a former official. “We constantly have new people in leadership reinventing the cyber program.”

Several cyber and law-enforcement experts said they were confident the work of the FBI’s cyber division would remain high but that turnover takes a toll.

“What is harmful is the churn,” said Leo Taddeo, former special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York cyber division and chief information security officer at Cyxtera Technologies. “Bringing on talent, training talent and then having that talent leave—it creates a gap.”

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White House struggles to contain political outcry over Trump-Putin summit

July 19, 2018

The White House struggled on Wednesday to contain a political outcry and confusion over U.S. President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, denying Trump ever meant to say that Moscow was no longer targeting the United States.

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US President Donald Trump at a cabinet meeting in the White House on July 18, 2018

Trump, facing uproar over his failure to confront Putin over Russia’s 2016 U.S. election meddling, adopted his usual defiant posture two days after their Helsinki summit and called his critics deranged.

Asked by a journalist before a morning Cabinet meeting whether Russia was still targeting the United States, Trump looked at the reporter, shook his head and said, “No.”

At a later briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the president was saying “no” to answering questions, not to the question itself.

U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia’s efforts to undermine elections are continuing and now target the Nov. 6 congressional races. Sanders said Trump believes the threat from Russia to undermine those elections still exists.

Asked later in an interview with CBS News whether he held Putin personally responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, Trump said he did.

“Well, I would, because he’s in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” he said.

The U.S. president said that in his talks with Putin, he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling, we can’t have any of that.” But Trump also appeared to question whether such statements would have an impact on Russia. “We’re also living in a grown-up world,” he said.

Sanders explanation of Trump’s “No” was the second time since Monday’s summit that Trump and the White House have blamed a misstatement or misunderstanding for the furor over Russia.

On Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke at a Helsinki news conference with Putin and that he accepted intelligence agency conclusions about Russian election meddling, although he hedged by deviating from his prepared notes to say “it could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”

Trump stunned the world on Monday by shying away from criticizing the Russian leader for Moscow’s actions to undermine the election, sparking bipartisan fury at home and prompting calls by some U.S. lawmakers for tougher sanctions and other actions to punish Russia.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump listen during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Critics have accused Trump of siding with Russia over his own country by failing to criticize Moscow for what U.S. intelligence agencies last year described as Russia’s election interference in an attempt to sow discord, aid Trump’s candidacy and disparage Trump’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Putin has denied the allegations.

‘DOING VERY WELL’

“We’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia. And there’s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia,” Trump said before the Cabinet meeting, adding that Putin “understands it and he’s not happy about it.”

In a series of early morning Twitter posts, the Republican president said the summit would eventually produce “big results” and accused his critics of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!” the president wrote.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a congressional committee in February he already had seen evidence Russia was targeting November’s elections when Republican control of the House of Representatives and Senate is at stake.

In rebutting Trump’s dismissive comments about U.S. intelligence on Monday, Coats said, “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Trump needed to wake up to Russia’s efforts to interfere in American elections.

“We won’t be able, as a nation, to fight back against foreign interference in our elections if the Commander in Chief doesn’t even acknowledge that it’s a real problem,” Schumer said in a statement.

Republican Senator John McCain accused Trump of “playing right into Putin’s hands” with the president’s comments in a Fox News interview on Tuesday that appeared to question the American commitment to defend all NATO allies.

Asked why Americans should defend NATO member Montenegro from attack, Trump said, “I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War Three.”

Montenegro joined NATO last year in defiance of Moscow after accusing Russian spies of orchestrating an attempted coup to derail the accession.

In his morning tweets, Trump said he elicited a promise from Putin during their meeting to help negotiations with North Korea, but did not say how. Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in June and has since received a letter from Kim expressing hope for “practical actions” in the future as the United States seeking Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

Russia’s RIA news agency, citing Moscow’s envoy to Pyongyang, reported that a summit between the leaders of Russia and North Korea is “on the agenda” and that it would be “logical” to raise the idea of lifting sanctions.

Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk in Moscow, Alison Williams in London, Amanda Becker, Sarah Lynch and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham, Grant McCool

Reuters

In His Latest Account of His Meeting With Putin, Trump Says He Laid Down the Law

July 19, 2018

President Trump sowed even more confusion on Wednesday over his recent meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin, insisting after a day of conflicting statements about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election that he had actually laid down the law with Mr. Putin.

“I let him know we can’t have this,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “CBS Evening News.” “We’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

But that statement was almost completely at odds with how the president has characterized the meeting with Mr. Putin on Monday in Helsinki, Finland, and it contradicted an answer he appeared to give when asked earlier in the day if he believed Russia was still interfering in American elections and he said, “No.”

The White House claimed Mr. Trump had yet again been misunderstood. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, said the president had said “no” only to whether he would take questions during a cabinet meeting, not to whether Russia was still interfering.

By Mark Landler and Eileen Sullivan
The New York Times
July 18, 2018

President Donald Trump said he doesn’t believe Russia still targets the United States ahead of a July 18, 2018, Cabinet meeting. Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

“We believe that the threat still exists,” she said, “which is why we are taking steps to prevent it.”

It was the second day of reversals and semantic hairsplitting in Mr. Trump’s statements about Russia — on Tuesday, he said that he had meant to say at a news conference in Helsinki that he disagreed with a statement by Mr. Putin, not that he agreed with it — and it only deepened the mystery of what exactly Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had talked about during a two-and-a-half-hour session in Finland when only their interpreters were in the room with them.

Democrats demanded that Mr. Trump’s State Department interpreter be summoned to Capitol Hill to testify about what the president said, a prospect that seemed unlikely, given the lack of Republican support. But Republicans also hardened their criticism of Mr. Trump, with lawmakers expressing anger and incredulity at his shifting statements.

Mr. Trump has been consistent in some respects. In his CBS interview, he delivered yet another broadside against prominent veterans of the intelligence community, referring to a former director of the C.I.A., John O. Brennan, as a “total lowlife,” and suggesting that someone had gotten to James R. Clapper, a former director of national intelligence.

But Mr. Trump tried to dispel perceptions of a rift between him and the current national intelligence director, Dan Coats, who has warned of Russia’s continuing efforts to meddle in American elections. Mr. Trump said Mr. Coats was doing an “excellent job,” as was the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel.

“When they tell me something, it means a lot,” Mr. Trump said. Of Mr. Coats, the president said, “He’s a great guy and a great patriot who loves his country, and he’s only going to say what he believes.”

That was a shift from Monday, when Mr. Trump, standing next to Mr. Putin, said Mr. Coats had expressed his views about Russia’s culpability but Mr. Trump had found the Russian leader’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial more persuasive.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” he said. “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.”

After his words set off a cascade of criticism, Mr. Trump claimed that he had misspoken as a result of his failed attempt to use a double negative when he was answering a question about whether he believed Mr. Putin or American intelligence agencies.

The next reversal came Wednesday during a cabinet meeting, when reporters and photographers jostled on the other side of a long table from Mr. Trump. After a series of statements from cabinet officials and the president’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, press aides began ordering reporters to leave the room — and one asked Mr. Trump if he believed that Russia was still targeting American elections.

“No,” Mr. Trump said, going on to say he had been tough on Russia — a fact, he said, the news media consistently failed to report.

While these encounters, known as pool sprays, are hectic and sometimes confusing — with cross talk and background noise — Mr. Trump seemed to be responding to a question about Russia rather than a general request to take questions.

Regardless, the constantly changing stories frayed nerves among Republicans.

Speaking before Mr. Trump’s interview on CBS was aired, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that he was “dumbfounded” by the president’s latest denial. “We need to reconcile the difference between him and the intelligence community,” he said. “I agree with the intelligence community. Tell me why I’m wrong, Mr. President.”

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said he had no reason to doubt the warnings from intelligence agencies about November’s midterm elections. “He ought to look at the intelligence,” Mr. Burr, a Republican, said of Mr. Trump.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said Mr. Trump’s rejection of American intelligence put the country’s security at risk.

“This president continuing to deny the reality of our country under assault by Russia and other parties, it raises questions not only about Trump’s credibility but his commitment to our nation’s security,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Trump also came under sharp criticism for discussing an agreement with Mr. Putin under which Russian authorities would be allowed to question several American citizens it claims were involved in illegal dealings with a London-based financier and longtime critic of Mr. Putin, William F. Browder.

On Monday, Mr. Trump said Mr. Putin had made an “incredible” offer: to allow the special counsel in the Russia inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III, to interview 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted last week on a charge of hacking the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 Clinton campaign, in return for access to these Americans.

Among the names on the list, a Russian official told the Interfax news agency, is that of Michael A. McFaul, who served as American ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. Mr. McFaul was sharply critical of the Russian government during his posting in Moscow, and has continued to speak and write regularly about Mr. Putin.

“There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States,” Ms. Sanders said Wednesday. “The president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”

Mr. McFaul, a Stanford professor and Russia expert, said he knows Mr. Browder but has never had business with him, and found the idea advanced by Mr. Putin as “absolutely outrageous.”

“What they’re doing is allowing a moral equivalency between a legitimate indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers for interfering in our election with a cockamamie, crazy story that it sounds like Putin spun to our president in Helsinki,” Mr. McFaul said.

As a legal matter, Mr. Trump has no authority to force Mr. McFaul or any other American to face Russian questioning. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, and under a mutual legal assistance treaty between the countries, the Justice Department can reject any request relating to a case it deems politically motivated — a status it has long given to Russia’s case against Mr. Browder.

Still, diplomats and other former officials said the mere fact that Mr. Trump discussed such an arrangement with the leader of a hostile power could put other American diplomats serving in dangerous posts at risk.

“The so-called deal apparently suggested in Helsinki is a classic Putin diversion,” said William J. Burns, a former ambassador to Russia and a deputy secretary of state. “It is a deeply cynical dodge, in no way aimed at cooperation on the very serious matter of Russia’s interference in our political system, which last Friday’s indictments detail so powerfully.”

“It would be truly appalling if the White House were even to consider the Russian ploy of proposing an interview of Mike McFaul, who served our country with honor as ambassador to Russia,” said Mr. Burns, who is now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The White House should knock this idea down flatly, and immediately.”

Maggie Haberman, Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Trump’s ‘No’ Adds to Swirl Of Confusion

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

July 18, 2018

President Donald Trump 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 handling of 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.

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

Image result for donald trump,  photos, July 18, 2018, photos

The president said his administration is “doing very well” in countering Russia, citing U.S. sanctions on Moscow and the explosion 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.

That comment undercut his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, 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 to the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

“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 Schumer (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 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 Trump.

Several GOP lawmakers and Trump allies have indicated the president’s clean-up 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 they interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said he is calling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify before his panel next week to discuss Trump’s meeting with Putin.

This story was updated at 1:47 p.m. 

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Lindsey Graham

@LindseyGrahamSC

A BIG discrepancy between President Trump’s statement and DNI Coates’ warning.

It’s imperative we get to the bottom of what is going on so we can be prepared to protect ourselves in advance of the 2018 elections.

My personal view: the Russians are at it again.

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AFP
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Trump says no president has been as ‘tough’ on Russia

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US President Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that no president has been as “tough” on Russia as him but appeared to contradict his intelligence agencies when asked if Russia was still targeting the United States.

Trump, facing criticism that he failed to hold Russian leader Vladimir Putin to account at their Helsinki summit, said “we’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia.

“Look at what we’ve done. Look at sanctions,” Trump said at a cabinet meeting at the White House.

“And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody,” he said. “Certainly a lot better than the media.

“He understands it, and he’s not happy about it,” Trump said. “And he shouldn’t be happy about it because there’s never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”

Trump replied “no” when asked if Russia, accused by US intelligence agencies of interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign and continuing to do so, was still targeting the United States.

A day after back-tracking, Trump defends summit performance

July 18, 2018

Taking to Twitter early Wednesday, President Donald Trump defended anew his much-criticized performance at the Helsinki summit, promising “big results” from better relations with Russia and hitting back at “haters.”

Trump made no mention of his having walked back comments that called into question U.S. intelligence findings of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Those comments, delivered alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit press conference Monday, had prompted blistering, bipartisan criticism at home.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump tweeted.

He added: “We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match.”

In a follow-up tweet, Trump wrote that Russia has agreed to help in delicate negotiations with North Korea. But he gave no details on how and when that would happen.

“Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!” he wrote.

Amid bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, Trump sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error Tuesday. He backed away from his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump is going back on comments he made during their joint press conference. (July 17)

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’” instead of “why it would,” Trump said Tuesday of the comments he had made standing alongside Putin on the summit stage in Helsinki.

That didn’t explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long to correct his remarks. And the scripted cleanup pertained only to the least defensible of his comments.

He didn’t reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.

Trump also accused past American leaders, rather than Russia’s destabilizing actions in the U.S. and around the world, for the souring of relations between two countries. And he did not address his other problematic statements during a week-long Europe tour, in which he sent the NATO alliance into emergency session and assailed British Prime Minister Theresa May as she was hosting him for an official visit.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump conceded Tuesday. But even then he made a point of adding, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”

Moments earlier, the usually reserved Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, publicly reassured America’s allies in Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.

“The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not,” McConnell declared.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was trying to “squirm away” from his comments alongside Putin. “It’s 24 hours too late and in the wrong place,” he said.

By dusk, hundreds of activists, led by attorney Michael Avenatti and actress Alyssa Milano, staged a protest near the White House, with chants of “traitor!” echoing along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump still maintained that his meetings with NATO allies went well and his summit with Putin “even better.” But this reference to diplomatic success carried an edge, too, since the barrage of criticism and insults he delivered in Brussels and London was hardly well-received.

Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!”

On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia, but they showed no sign of acting any time soon.

“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally. “What we intend to do is make sure they don’t get away with it again and also to help our allies.”

In the Senate, McConnell said “there’s a possibility” his chamber would act, pointing to a bipartisan measure from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to deter future Russian interference by ordering sanctions against countries if they do.

Both parties called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump’s two-hour private session with Putin. Pompeo is to publicly testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.

Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for U.S. elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

But minority Democrats have few tools to enforce anything.

In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi staged a vote in support of the intelligence committee’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But even that largely symbolic measure was blocked party-line by Republicans.

Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was preparing a bipartisan bill. But The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding resolution that amounts to “just some messaging exercise.”

Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“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.

“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That’s the part he corrected on Tuesday.

White House officials did not elaborate on how Trump came to issue the clarification, but administration aides described being stunned by his initial remarks Monday..

After his walk-back, Trump said his administration would “move aggressively” to repel efforts to interfere in American elections.

“We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” he said. “And we have a lot of power.”

The Associated Press

Follow Miller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@ZekeJMiller and Mascaro at http://twitter.com/@LisaMascaro.

Hannity wins as Trump’s lone defender

July 18, 2018

The Fox News host earns blockbuster ratings in his post-summit interview with the president.

Sean Hannity is pictured. | Getty Images
Fox News host Sean Hannity’s defense of Trump in the wake of the Helsinki episode stood in stark contrast with the critical remarks made by other Republicans typically supportive of the president. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The mass desertion by some of the president’s stalwart allies made his remaining defenders — Sean Hannity and a handful of right-wing media personalities — all the more conspicuous in the wake of Trump’s Helsinki appearance by virtue of being virtually alone.

Leading them all was Hannity, who has shadowed Trump across the globe for high-stakes international summits to provide him with a friendly interview platform moments after their conclusion. He was in Singapore last month to interview the president after his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and he was in Helsinki on Monday to shield him from bipartisan criticism that he had disgraced the U.S. by refusing to stand up to Putin.

“You were very strong at the end of that press conference,” Hannity told Trump, as he conducted the first interview following the afternoon news conference. Moments earlier, the president had told reporters he accepted Putin’s denials about meddling in the 2016 election even though his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said otherwise.

Though some right-wing radio hosts offered their own defenses of the president, the Hannity-Trump interview stood out as a singular safe space for the president on cable news, underscoring the significance of Hannity’s platform for the maintenance of the Trump brand. The relationship is mutually beneficial: Monday night’s interview drew about 4 million viewers, squashing the cable news competition and, in turn, providing the president with a megaphone that broadcasts directly to his political base.

Friends of Hannity say he is no longer driven primarily by money — Forbes estimated that he makes $36 million annually — but by his belief, shared with associates, that the country is at a tipping point. He and the president have forged a friendship that some have likened to a wacky version of the relationship between the late New York Times reporter Scotty Reston and President John F. Kennedy, who pressed Reston publicly to make the case for the policies he wanted to enact.

Like Trump and Hannity, who have been spotted together numerous times at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, Reston and Kennedy spent time together — in their case, at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Reston recounted in his memoir, “Deadline,” Kennedy asking him to make a case in the Times for the U.S. to respond militarily if the Soviets tried to block American access to Berlin. The president himself ultimately cleared the language used in a Reston piece that made the argument.

Hannity’s coziness with the president, as well as that of other Fox News hosts with Trump, has at times discomfited the executives trying to steer the network in the post-Roger Ailes era. The channel is now led by CEO Suzanne Scott, and Fox News executives have at times pushed its hosts to distance themselves from the president, according to people familiar with their deliberations. On at least one occasion, executives asked a group of Fox personalities who had been invited to dine at the White House to decline the invitation, hoping to fend off the appearance that the network has inched too close to the White House.

“All it is is fear and nervousness about the whole situation,” a former network producer said of the proximity of so many of the network’s stars to the White House, including a romantic relationship between Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. A spokeswoman for Fox News declined to comment on the record for this article.

A person close to Hannity said executives have not asked him to decline the president’s invitations and that he has “a strong working relationship with Rupert [Murdoch], Lachlan [Murdoch] and Suzanne Scott. Rupert in particular loves news and a strong, dynamic editorial division.” Unnamed sources, the sources continued, “obviously work in the much lower-rated news division at Fox, and are just jealous of the attention and ratings of the opinion hosts on the network.”

Hannity has crisscrossed the globe conducting the ratings-busting interviews at the encouragement, in part, of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to a person familiar with the situation. In exile, Bannon has huddled with Trump defenders like Hannity who still enjoy a direct line to the president, strategizing with them about how to amplify the president’s message. He ralliedEuropean populists in London ahead of the president’s visit to the U.K. last week and emerged on Tuesday to defend Trump’s news-conference performance. Bannon told POLITICO on Tuesday that Trump was playing three-dimensional chess, pitting Russia against China in a “brilliant” strategy.

Talk radio hosts Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh also defended the president, arguing that it was President Barack Obama on whose watch Putin’s mischief occurred but Trump who was being held to account for it. But it was Hannity who offered unmitigated support, praising the president for traveling widely across the globe at “the speed of Trump.”

Hannity’s defense of Trump in the wake of the Helsinki episode stood in stark contrast to critical remarks made by other Republicans typically loyal to the president. “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately,” said Gingrich, the former House speaker who served as a surrogate for Trump on the campaign trail.

Even Trump’s allies on “Fox & Friends,” whose hosts and guests have garnered praise from the president on numerous occasions, were discomfited by the interview. “I will say this to the president, when Newt Gingrich, when Gen. Jack Keane, when Matt Schlapp say, ‘The president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad,’ I think it’s time to pay attention, and it’s easily correctible from the president’s perspective,” “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade said.

Trump appears to have been listening. A senior administration official said the president was far more impacted by external critics, including those on Fox, than by any of his advisers, who were roundly disappointed by his performance. By Tuesday afternoon, he had done an about-face, telling reporters ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers that he accepted the findings of the intelligence community that Russia had, in fact, meddled in the 2016 election.

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/17/hannity-trump-defender-putin-russia-728978

Containing Putin—and Trump

July 18, 2018

Congress needs to block any new arms deal until Russia stops cheating.

In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia.
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia. PHOTO: RU-RTR RUSSIAN TELEVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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President Trump rarely admits mistakes, so it was good on Tuesday to see him reverse his claim of Monday that Russia may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The problem is that he still doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the adversary known as Vladimir Putin whom he wants to make his friend.

“I have full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday at the White House. He added that he unintentionally erred Monday when he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” that had done the cyber-hacking. He said he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

We wonder who thought of that one, but never mind. At least Mr. Trump has at last publicly sided with his own advisers over the former KGB agent in the Kremlin. He also said “we are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference” in the 2018 election, which his intelligence advisers have also warned him about.

Less encouraging is Mr. Trump’s continued enthusiasm for working with Mr. Putin on issues like Syria and arms control. On nuclear weapons in particular, Mr. Trump is a neophyte compared with the Russian who wants to rewrite the historical record to lure the President into further reducing the U.S. arsenal.

Nuclear weapons are “the greatest threat of our world today,” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday. Russia is “a great nuclear power, we’re a great nuclear power. We have to do something about nuclear, and so that was a matter that we discussed actually in great detail, and President Putin agrees with me.”

Uh oh. In an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace Monday, Mr. Putin lamented America’s “unilateral withdrawal” from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) during the George W. Bush Administration. “We didn’t want the United States to withdraw from the ABM treaty, but they did despite our request not to do it,” Mr. Putin said.

What Mr. Putin didn’t explain is that the ABM Treaty, which limited deployments of missile defenses, was a bilateral pact that the U.S. adhered to and the Soviets repeatedly violated, notably by building a large, phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the ABM Treaty was effectively voided, yet Republican and Democratic Presidents kept the treaty in place.

George W. Bush finally withdrew from ABM in 2002, explaining that the Cold War had ended, Russia was no longer an enemy, and the treaty hindered the U.S. “ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” The Bush Administration understood that the treaty left the U.S. defenseless against a missile from the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Bush’s withdrawal was legal under the treaty’s termination clause, and at the time Mr. Putin said the move was “mistaken” but “presented no threat to Russia’s security.” Yet on Monday Mr. Putin said Russia’s development of new offensive weaponry like the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile was “born as a response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty.”

In his news conference with Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin also excused Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bars ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Mr. Putin blamed “implementation issues.” He didn’t say that the Pentagon believes a new medium-range nuclear cruise missile that Russia has deployed in Europe violates the INF treaty. And Mr. Trump didn’t call him on it.

Mr. Putin wants to draw Mr. Trump into an arms-control negotiation that would revive the ABM limits while expanding Barack Obama’s New Start reductions in U.S. missiles. Mr. Trump is so confident of his personal deal-making skills, and so untutored in nuclear arms, that we hope the negotiations never begin.

This is where Congress needs a containment strategy—for Mr. Putin and for Mr. Trump’s desire to cut deals with him. Members of both parties can make clear that no new arms deal is possible until Mr. Putin stops cheating on current treaties; that no limit on missile defenses is tolerable; and that any new deal must be submitted to the Senate as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote for ratification.

Appeared in the July 18, 2018, print edition.

Pence, Pompeo urged Trump to ‘make clarifications’ on Russia meddling – report

July 18, 2018
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VP, secretary of state said to corner US president in the Oval Office and advise he address comments exonerating Moscow from election interference

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Commerce Department in Washington, July 16, 2018. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Commerce Department in Washington, July 16, 2018. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo together urged US President Donald Trump to make clear his position on Russian interference in the 2016 elections after Trump drew a storm of criticism for apparently clearing Moscow of wrongdoing.

Pence and Pompeo held a conversation with Trump on Tuesday in the Oval Office during which they advised Trump to “make clarifications” about his position on Russian election meddling, NBC News reported, citing a source familiar with the conversation.

Later that day, Trump declared he had misspoken when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the vote that put him in office.

Speaking at the White House ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers, Trump said, “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’ instead of ‘why it would.’”

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. But he added, as he usually does, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”

US President Donald Trump, right, listens to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during press conference after a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

His comments came — amid rising rebuke by his own party — about 27 hours after his original, widely reported statement, which he made at a summit Monday in Helsinki standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During that press conference, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“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.

“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That was the part he corrected on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump, left, listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

In Helsinki, Putin said he had indeed wanted Trump to win the election — a revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump’s performance — but had taken no action to make it happen.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/pence-pompeo-urged-trump-to-make-clarifications-on-russia-meddling-report/

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(Includes text from Vanity Fair)