Trump says he 'misspoke' on Russia election meddling
U.S. President Donald Trump, grappling with a torrent of criticism over his performance at a Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday he misspoke at their joint news conference and meant to say he saw no reason why it was not Russia that interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, said he had full faith and support for U.S. intelligence agencies and accepted their conclusion that Russia meddled in the election.
"The full faith and support for America's intelligence agencies - I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies," Trump said in remarks preceding a meeting with House of Representatives Republicans about possible future tax cuts.
But he said Russian actions had no impact on the outcome of the vote and the administration would work aggressively to protect the November 2018 congressional elections.
Standing alongside Putin at the news conference in Helsinki on Monday, Trump was asked if he believed U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusions that Russia interfered in the election in an effort to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump said he was not convinced it was Moscow.
"I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said. "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
The political firestorm over his performance at the Helsinki news conference has engulfed the administration and spread to his fellow Republicans, eclipsing most of the frequent controversies that have erupted during Trump's turbulent 18 months in office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Russia was not a friend of the United States and warned against a repeat of the 2016 election meddling.
"There are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018," McConnell said.
Some politicians said they would seek remedies against Russia in Congress.
Several senators from both parties backed tougher sanctions on Russia, but it was unclear if Republican congressional leaders would support such a move or what new sanctions might be crafted.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called Russia's government "menacing," said he would consider additional sanctions on Russia and reiterated his support for U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Congress overwhelmingly passed a sanctions law last year targeting Moscow for election meddling and for its actions in Ukraine and Syria. In April, that law led the U.S. Treasury to impose major sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs, in one of Washington's most aggressive moves to punish Moscow.
Other politicians have suggested passing resolutions voicing support for intelligence agencies, or spending more to enhance election security and prevent cyber attacks.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said congressional leaders were searching for the most effective response.
"We’re trying to figure out what would be an appropriate way to push back," Corker told reporters. "You know the president can do more damage in 15 minutes at a press conference than we can undo in six months of passing resolutions."
Corker said "the first step" will be hearing from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will testify before Congress on Russia next week.
"We don't want to do a 'ready, fire, aim' thing. We want to think through what we do so that it benefits our country," Corker said.