Politics

Trump Stumbles Into Second Day of Putin Summit Walkback

Presidential mop-up operation begins early on Twitter

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin answer questions about the 2016 U.S election during a joint news conference after their summit on Monday in Helsinki, Finland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning continued trying to portray his widely panned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a success amid a bipartisan backlash.

Despite many reviews to the contrary, the commander in chief described a rocky NATO summit last week that was dominated by him lashing out at America’s foes as “an acknowledged triumph.”

For the second consecutive day, Trump contended that his Finland summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin “may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success.”

Russian state-run media outlets have reported Putin’s government is preparing to implement agreements that were made with Trump during a private meeting with Putin in Helsinki. U.S. lawmakers were alarmed Tuesday by such reports, immediately calling for Trump administration officials to come to Capitol Hill later this month to testify in public about just what happened in Finland and to describe any pacts that were struck.

Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday used the same language — words like “damaging” — to describe Trump’s performance beside Putin a day after he stood alongside Putin on foreign soil and sided with the Russian president over the U.S. intelligence community. Members of both parties said they might produce legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia, alarmed that Trump is going easy on Putin.

On Wednesday said he claimed that high-level intelligence officials “loved” the news conference in which he stood side-by-side with the Russian president and cast doubts on their assessment that Russians had interfered with U.S. elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned Putin to stand down with his alleged plan to again meddle in an American election this fall.

But Trump continues to pursue warmer relations with Russia, and to sell what he sees as the benefits.

He wrote Wednesday morning of his meeting with the Russian strongman: “Many positive things will come out of that meeting.” The lone specific he mentioned, however, was Putin agreeing to somehow help disarm North Korea. A day earlier, Trump said the two leaders made progress on issues related to Syria.

The Wednesday morning tweets continued a presidential mop-up operation stemming from a 45-minute Helsinki press conference during which Trump showed leniency toward Putin and criticized his own intelligence agencies and publicly broke with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said Monday of U.S. intelligence officials, including ones he appointed. “I have [asked] President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. … I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. 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 on Tuesday afternoon, Trump trotted out what might be dubbed the “double-negative defense.”

"I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” Trump said during a White House meeting with GOP lawmakers, a response that took more than 24 hours to concoct and roll out. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

“I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself,” he said. But he also again said he believes other parties, not just Russia, interfered in the election: “Could be other people also; there's a lot of people out there.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., rejected the Tuesday clean-up operation, saying: “If the president can’t say directly to President Putin that he is wrong and we are right and our intelligence agencies are right, it’s ineffective, and worse, another sign of weakness.”

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