Trump says he holds Putin personally responsible for 2016 US election meddling
Washington, Jul 19: US President Donald Trump today said he holds his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin personally responsible for the alleged meddling into the 2016 general elections, as he went into damage-control mode to douse a flurry of criticism over his recent comments about Russia.
Trump has been on the defensive for the past two days after failing to defend the American intelligence community during a much-talked about press conference with Putin in Helsinki on Monday after their first summit.
The US President seemed to lend credence to his Russian counterpart's insistence that his government was not involved in the effort to influence the 2016 election campaign. Trump, a Republican, defeated his Democratic party rival Hillary Clinton in the election.
Trump's comments sparked a barrage of criticism from the media and lawmakers across the political spectrum, with many calling on him to correct himself.
Speaking to CBS News, Trump said he would consider Putin culpable because he was Russia's leader.
"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," Trump said.
"So certainly as the leader of the country you would have to hold him responsible," he said.
Facing huge criticism, Trump quickly took a U-turn and attributed his comments at the joint press conference with Putin to a simple mistake.
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" Trump said on Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,'" he said. "Sort of a double negative."
Meanwhile, the White House was once again sent into clean-up mode when Trump said "no" when a reporter asked him if Russia was still targeting the United States.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later claimed Trump was saying "no" to answering questions, not to whether the Russians are targeting the US.
"The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past," Sanders said at a news briefing yesterday.
When pressed in his CBS interview on whether his acceptance of the US intelligence analysis meant that he thought Putin lied when denying any Russian involvement, Trump said he "didn't want to get into whether or not he's lying."
"I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted," Trump said.
He said his message to Putin warning against future interference was "very strong" during their meeting on Monday.
"I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it. And that's the way it's going to be," Trump said.
Trump also said once again that he wants to sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller is leading the investigation into Russian interference in the election and Russians' ties to the Trump campaign.
"I've always wanted to do an interview, because look, there's been no collusion," Trump said.
Yesterday, the US President said that he believes in the assessment of his intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in American elections in 2016 and his remarks contrary to this a day earlier in Helsinki was a case of misspeaking.
In the interview, Trump also expressed confidence in Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, whose dire warnings about US hacking vulnerabilities he had questioned in a previous interview.
"Well, I accept. I mean, he's an expert," Trump said. "This is what he does. He's been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats, and if he says that, I would accept that. I will tell you though, it better not be. It better not be," he said.
Trump said he also accepts Coats' assessment that the threat from Russia is ongoing. But he declined to say whether his faith in the intelligence community leads him to the conclusion that Putin's denials are untrue.