While President Donald Trump says he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is sincere when he denies that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, the president said he personally believes the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community -– and not Putin -– that Russia did in fact meddle in the election.
“I believe he believes that,” Trump said of Putin’s denials during a joint press conference with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang at the presidential palace in Hanoi and expressed surprise that there was any confusion about what he meant after previously telling reporters that Putin “means it” when he says he didn’t meddle.
Trump went on to say he personally accepts the opinion of the U.S. intelligence agencies “as currently led” by his appointees, in spite of Putin’s denials.
“I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their current leadership,” Trump said. “I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies … as currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
The president’s statement, with the caveat that he trusts the intelligence as currently led, is one of his clearest comments to date on accepting the consensus conclusions reached by the U.S. intelligence agencies in a report published earlier this year on Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. election.
Several of the president’s top intelligence leadership testified before Congress earlier this year and said they accept the conclusion of the initial report that Russia sought to influence the U.S. election.
The president came under fire for his initial comments this weekend that he believes Putin is sincere when he denies that Russia was involved in election meddling, following a chat with Putin in Asia. On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, former CIA Director John Brennan slammed President Trump’s first statement.
“By not confronting the issue directly and not acknowledging to Putin that we know that you’re responsible for this, I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” Brennan said.
The former CIA director added, “It demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and to try to play upon his insecurities which is very very worrisome from a national security standpoint.”