WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday he misspoke at a news conference following his meeting in Helsinki with his Russian counterpart, insisting that he meant to say it was very plausible that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
Trump made the clarification after coming under a storm of criticism from both Democrats and members of his own Republican party, who blasted the president for appearing to give credence to Vladimir Putin over the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
The controversial remark came during an exchange Monday in the Finnish capital with a reporter who asked him whether he believed US intelligence reports that concluded that Moscow meddled in the election or if he accepted the assurances of Putin, who told Trump during the meeting that no interference took place.
Trump’s reply sparked outrage among many of his political opponents.
“My people came to me ... 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.”
On Tuesday, he clarified what he meant to say.
“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” Trump said in remarks Tuesday at the White House.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said, although he added that “it could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
Trump furthermore reiterated his assertion that his administration did not collude with the Russians to undermine the presidential bid of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Leading Democrats say Trump’s surprise victory in the Nov. 8, 2016, balloting was due in part to the Russian government’s meddling in the campaign and, in particular, its alleged hacking of the computers of the Democratic National Committee.
They say the disclosure by WikiLeaks of e-mails from the DNC and from the chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign, John Podesta, contributed to her election defeat.
For more than a year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been looking into the purported Russian meddling, as well as possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.