This story has been updated to include DNI Dan Coats' response to Trump's statements.
America’s top intelligence officer, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Russian President Vladimir Putin could be described as mortal adversaries. But when it comes to their assessments of Russian hacking of the 2016 election, President Donald Trump said Monday he finds them equally credible, saying, “I have confidence in both parties.”
When asked about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump responded by casting doubt over his own intelligence agencies. “I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia,” Trump said, standing feet away from Putin at the press conference following their face-to-face summit in Helsinki, Finland.
He continued: “I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. 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.”
Trump’s comments come less than a week since special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators indicted 12 Russian nationals inside Russia’s government for meddling in the 2016 election. It also comes on the heels of DNI Coats likening cyberthreats posed by Russia to warning signs that came before the attacks of September 11, 2001.
When Trump was asked directly by an Associated Press reporter who he believes and if he would now denounce Putin for the meddling in 2016 and warn him never to do it again, Trump raised the unrelated FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server:
So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, [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, but I really do want to see the server, but I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server.
Trump continued on to peddle a conspiracy theory that Imran Awan, a Democratic staffer who recently pleaded guilty to unrelated financial charges, helped steal Democratic data.
What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. 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. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.
Despite Trump's comments, DNI Coats stuck to his position, maintaining America's intel community "have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election," and vowing to "continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)