President Trump took a hard 180 from comments in his joint press conference Monday with Vladimir Putin where he said he believed Putin's denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a special presser Tuesday, Trump told reporters that he meant to say the opposite of what he'd said just a day earlier.
When he was onstage beside Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, Trump said about election meddling, “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. 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.”
But after major backlash, Trump told reporters Tuesday that he has full confidence in the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the Russians did, in fact, meddle in the election. Trump said he was originally flummoxed by the press’ reaction to his comments, and that when he requested a transcript, he realized he’d made a critical mistake.
“I realize that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said. “In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.'"
“The sentence should’ve been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double-negative,” the president continued. “I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
But even with his walkback, Trump still left some wiggle room for Russia.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
“Could be other people also,” Trump added, briefly looking up from his written statement.
Funny enough — right as Trump was reiterating his support for U.S. intelligence agencies — the lights in the room mysteriously went out. “Whoops, that must be the intelligence agencies,” Trump remarked.
The president also repeatedly denied any collusion, as he has many times before, with the Russians during the 2016 election.
Tuesday’s press conference wasn’t the first interaction Trump has had with the press since his meeting with Putin. On Monday night, after the meeting, Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that the the ongoing investigations into Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia — which Trump called a “phony witch hunt” — was driving a wedge between the U.S. and Russia.
At the time, Trump didn’t clarify that he trusted the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and instead, focused on what he sees as collusion between Russian nationals and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“President Putin, that’s one of the early things he said when we started. He said, ‘It’s really a shame because we could do so much good,’” Trump told Hannity. “They drove a phony wedge — a phony witch hunt, rigged deal.”
That's the same point he made sure to make in his own notes for the Tuesday presser.
Cover image: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)