As reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from the Virginia event, Carter noted, "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. He lost the election and he was put in office because the Russians interfered on his behalf."
Carter’s pointed comments came as Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, just weeks after Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed alleged Russian efforts to sway the 2016 presidential vote in Trump’s favor.
Asked by moderator-historian Jon Meacham at Friday’s forum 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.
Carter and 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 held as part of a five-day retreat for Carter Center supporters at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg.
Trump, however, made clear on Saturday: “I won not because of Russia, not because of anybody but myself.”
The Washington Post reported that Trump also said Carter’s efforts to deal with Iran, which held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, were “a disaster. They tied him up in knots. That’s probably why Ronald Reagan became president.”
Carter recently said Trump made the correct call by not taking military action against Iran. Last week, Trump said he had called off military strikes planned against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone.
As for the 2016 presidential election, Carter’s comments represented his most critical yet about Russia’s role. 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.”
The U.S. intelligence community asserted in a 2017 report that Russia had worked to help Trump during the election and to undermine the candidacy of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But the intelligence agencies did not assess whether that interference had affected the election or contributed to Trump’s victory.
Trump insisted during his press conference marking the end of the G20 gathering in Osaka, that he had won because he’d worked harder and smarter than Clinton. Trump also said he’d “felt badly” for Carter because of the way he’d “been trashed within his own party.”
“He’s been badly trashed,” said Trump. “He’s like the forgotten president. And I understand why they say that. He was not a good president.”
This story compiled with reporting by The Associated Press and AJC staff writer Ernie Suggs.