White House officials denied that President Donald Trump expressed his disagreement Wednesday with U.S. intelligence officials who have said that the threat from Russia is ongoing.
“Thank you very much. No,” Trump said after a reporter asked during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday if Russia was still targeting the U.S. The comment came one day after he corrected a separate statement in which he said he couldn’t see why Russia would have meddled in the election despite the consensus of American intelligence officials.
“We are doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia,” Trump said. “There's been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.”
Update 3:05 p.m. EDT: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news briefing Wednesday that Trump was misinterpreted.
She said the president was telling reporters that he did not plan to answer questions after the Cabinet meeting and not that he didn’t think Russia was continuing to target America.
“I had a chance to speak to the president after his comments and the president said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and (he) was saying, ‘No,’ to answering questions,” Huckabee Sanders said. “We believe that the threat still exists which is why we are taking steps to forget it.”
Original report: Trump’s comment came just days after National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said in a statement that intelligence officials “have been clear in our assessments of Russia meddling in the 2016 election” and the ongoing efforts to interfere in American politics.
Wednesday’s comments marked the second time in less than a week that the president has contradicted his intelligence officials while talking about Russia. He told reporters on Tuesday that he “misspoke” one day earlier when, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, he said that he didn’t see why Russia would have meddled in the election.
“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ ... I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
However, he added, it “could be other people also.”
The president reiterated that his campaign had no involvement in the election meddling.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was tasked in May 2017 with investigating Russian election interference and its possible ties to Trump and his campaign officials. The special counsel investigation of Russian meddling has led to charges against 32 people accused of crimes ranging from money laundering and falsifying income tax returns to lying to FBI investigators.
Five people, including former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, have pleaded guilty to charges in the investigation. The investigation is ongoing.
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