What does Donald Trump really believe about Russian meddling?

US president backtracks on comments denying Russia interfered in US election

Donald Trump reads from a heavily amended script to clarify Russian meddling claims
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has bowed to widespread condemnation of his comments denying Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, following a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

The New York Times says Trump was “under unrelenting pressure from congressional Republicans, his own advisers and his allies on Fox News”, forcing him to claim that he had “misspoken” during a subsequent news conference.

Speaking about Russian interference in US elections during the press conference on Monday, Trump 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.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

However, yesterday Trump tried to walk back that comment, reading from a script: “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ …sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good.”

Trump also voiced his support for US intelligence agencies, “a day after he had refused to accept their findings on Russia's election interference over Putin's denials”, CNN says.

The Washington Post notes that Trump appeared to regularly stray from his prepared remarks, a tactic that has traditionally played well with his support base.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump read from the script, before adding an off-script remark: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there”.

So does the US president believe Russia meddled in the 2016 US election? To determine what he thinks, it is important to focus on the unscripted part of his statement, said CNN's Chris Cillizza.

“Focus on the five words at the end there: ‘Could be other people also’”, Cillizza said. “What those five words reveal is that Trump is still not at all convinced that Russia was the one who interfered in the 2016 election - or, at a minimum, that Russia acted alone. Which means that in purposely trying to fix the mess he made by suggesting he didn't totally believe his own intelligence community, Trump made the point that he doesn't totally believe his own intelligence community.”

Regardless of his own views, the US president’s attempt to clarify his position did little to allay the criticisms of his performance in Helsinki. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted: “President Trump tried to squirm away from what he said yesterday. It’s twenty-four hours too late, and in the wrong place.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.