Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional comments from Carter about Trump’s policies on the Mexican border, in addition to comments from President Donald Trump and former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Jimmy Carter said Friday he believes President Donald Trump would have lost the 2016 election without Russian help.
The former president also sharply criticized Trump’s policies on the U.S.-Mexico border, calling them “disgraceful” and accusing Trump of ordering the “torture” and “kidnapping” of children.
The pointed comments came as Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan at the Group of 20 summit, the first since Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed alleged Russian efforts to sway the 2016 presidential vote in Trump’s favor.
“There’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated, would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016,” said Carter. “He lost the election and he was put in office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”
Speaking in Leesburg, Va. at the Carter Center’s annual retreat, the 39th president was then asked by moderator Jon Meacham, a historian, if Trump was “an illegitimate president.”
Carter paused and smiled.
“Based on what I just said, which I can’t retract, I would say yes,” Carter said.
You can watch the full panel discussion here.
Carter and his former Vice President Walter Mondale, who ran the country from 1977 until 1981, sat side-by-side on stage during a panel discussion on human rights. Neither minced words. Mondale called Trump “detestable.”
Trump repeatedly has disputed U.S. intelligence authorities’ assessment that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. election, and has called the Mueller probe a witch hunt. The Republican president also has defended his crackdown on asylum seekers at the Mexican border, blaming Democrats for the growing humanitarian crisis.
Carter, a Democrat, blamed Trump for the worsening conditions at the border, including for detained migrant children from Mexico and Central America.
“Every day, we send a disgraceful signal around the world that this is what the president and the Unites States government stands for. And that is torture and kidnapping of little children. Separation from their parents and deprivation of those who are incarcerated,” Carter said. “What ICE is doing under direct orders of the president is a disgrace to the United States and I hope it will soon be ended. Maybe not until the 2020 election as we change presidents.”
Carter’s comments Friday represent his most critical yet about Russia’s role in the 2016 vote. In an October 2017 interview with The New York Times, Carter questioned whether Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election changed “enough votes, or any votes” to matter.
In Japan on Friday, asked by a reporter if he would warn Putin not to interfere in the 2020 election, a grinning Trump pointed his finger at Putin and said “Don’t meddle in the election, president.”
Earlier this month, Carter said Trump made the correct call by not taking military action against Iran. Carter also has praised Trump for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to try to avoid war.
But he had harsh words for Trump’s policies last September when he was asked at Emory University what he would do if he became president again. “I think the first thing I would do would be to change all of the policies that President Trump has initiated,” Carter said.
Carter doubled down Friday when asked by Meacham what Democrats running for office in 2020 should do immediately if elected.
“I go with what the participants of the [Democratic candidate] debates have said. Almost all say they would immediately revoke orders on borders, re-enter Paris Accords in preventing global warming and participate with other countries,” Carter said. “Things you can do with an executive order.”
Carter would not comment on whom he was backing for 2020. It was way too early, he said, but it has to be someone who could beat Trump.
Seated next to Carter, Mondale sharply criticized Trump’s leadership.
“They see in the president a cheerleader in this right-wing surge that is occurring in the world. He openly loves authoritarian leaders. Has contempt for democratic leaders,” said Mondale. “His rhetoric, harshness, divisiveness, all of this is a hateful thrust. And we are going to the right as a result. I have never seen a Republican president in my life act like this. He’s got something deep in him that is detestable.”
Carter didn’t challenge Mondale’s characterization. “I think [Mondale] just stole my headline,” Carter said.
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