Tuesday 19 March 2019

Donald Trump says he holds Vladimir Putin personally responsible for Russian election meddling

President Donald Trump speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Donald Trump speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Roberta Rampton

The White House struggled on Wednesday to contain a political outcry and confusion over US President Donald Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, denying Mr Trump ever meant to say that Moscow was no longer targeting the United States.

Mr Trump, facing uproar over his failure to confront Vladimir Putin over Russia's 2016 U.S. election meddling, adopted his usual defiant posture two days after their Helsinki summit and called his critics deranged.

Asked by a journalist before a morning Cabinet meeting whether Russia was still targeting the United States, Mr Trump looked at the reporter, shook his head and said, "No."

At a later briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the president was saying "no" to answering questions, not to the question itself.

US intelligence officials have said Russia's efforts to undermine elections are continuing and now target the Nov. 6 congressional races. Ms Sanders said Mr Trump believes the threat from Russia to undermine those elections still exists.

Asked later in an interview with CBS News whether he held Mr Putin personally responsible for meddling in the 2016 election, Trump said he did.

"Well, 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," he said.

The US president said that in his talks with Mr Putin, he was "very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that." But Mr Trump also appeared to question whether such statements would have an impact on Russia. "We're also living in a grown-up world," he said.

Ms Sanders explanation of Mr Trump's "No" was the second time since Monday's summit that Mr Trump and the White House have blamed a misstatement or misunderstanding for the furor over Russia.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he misspoke at a Helsinki news conference with Mr Putin and that he accepted intelligence agency conclusions about Russian election meddling, although he hedged by deviating from his prepared notes to say "it could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there."

Donald Trump stunned the world on Monday by shying away from criticizing the Russian leader for Moscow's actions to undermine the election, sparking bipartisan fury at home and prompting calls by some US lawmakers for tougher sanctions and other actions to punish Russia.

Critics have accused Mr Trump of siding with Russia over his own country by failing to criticize Moscow for what U.S. intelligence agencies last year described as Russia's election interference in an attempt to sow discord, aid Trump's candidacy and disparage Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Mr Putin has denied the allegations.


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