President Trump Says He Believes Vladimir Putin After He Again Denied Interfering In 2016 U.S. Election

President Trump tried to backpedal remarks he made Saturday valuing the word of Vladimir Putin over the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials.

Trump said he believes Putin when he says Moscow didn’t meddle in the presidential election, adding that claims to the contrary are politically motivated “hit job(s)” that are putting lives at risk.

“He says he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said aboard Air Force One. “Every time he sees me, he said, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it.”

Trump, in a press conference in Vietnam several hours later, tried to clarify his comments in what appeared to be a stark about-face.

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“I believe he feels he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said. “As to whether or not I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies. I believe in our intel agencies.”

After panning them that morning, Trump said U.S. intelligence agencies were “led by fine people.”

Trump’s new line on Russian meddling came after a crush of lawmakers and intelligence officials roundly denounced his initial remarks.

While Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while the pair were in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, they did speak on a variety of topics, according to the President.

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But the specter of Putin playing a role in nefarious efforts to influence the U.S. election hampered their dialogue, Trump said.

President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday.

President Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Saturday.


Trump, who has often called for warmer relations with Russia, was clearly frustrated, telling reporters that the former KGB agent is offended by the accusations.

“I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump said of his Russian counterpart.

The comments led to scorching criticism from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

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“You know who else is insulted by it, Mr. President? The American people,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted.

“There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly stood by the assessment that the Kremlin engaged in a concerted effort to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

The President on Saturday lampooned the former leaders of three top U.S. intelligence agencies.

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He placed Putin’s word above that of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and fired FBI Director James Comey.

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“I mean, give me a break – they’re political hacks,” Trump said. “You have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey’s proven now to be a liar, and he’s proven to be a leaker, so you look at that. And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Mike Pompeo, “stands by” the intelligence community’s report that concluded Russia was involved in attempts to influence the election.

“The director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 intelligence community assessment entitled: ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.’ The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed,” a spokesman said.

Trump and Putin grin as they shake hands at Vietnam summit

Before his late-night press conference in Vietnam, Trump lashed out at his critics in a grammatically challenged tweet.

“When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There (sic) always playing politics – bad for our country,” the President wrote.

“I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”

Trump’s comments come just two weeks after Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller unsealed a plea deal with George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. Papadopoulos had repeated contacts with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent. He also urged then-candidate Trump to meet with Putin, according to court papers.

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Mueller’s investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and the President’s campaign aides has also resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the election.

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Trump called the probe a “fake barrier” put in place by Democrats. He said that it is hurting the U.S.’ ability to have a relationship with Russia, a distraction that is jeopardizing discussions on North Korea, Ukraine and Syria and is putting lives at stake. “People will die because of it,” Trump declared.

In a bizarre twist, Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told CNN that election meddling did not come up when the two leaders met.

The Kremlin released a statement Saturday saying that the pair reached an agreement on Syria, including de-escalation zones, a system to prevent incidents between American and Russian forces and a commitment to a peaceful solution governed by a Geneva peace process.

The two did not have a chance to discuss efforts to deescalate tensions with North Korea, but the President again sang Putin’s praises on the issue.

“Having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing, especially as it relates to North Korea,” he said. “It would take a lot of danger out of this world. It’s a dangerous time – this isn’t small stuff.”

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates blasted Trump’s embrace of Putin, calling it “disturbing and shamelessly unpatriotic, on Veterans Day no less.”

Trump’s glowing appraisal of the Russian leader recalled another President’s favorable assessment of Putin.

George W. Bush famously said in 2001 that he looked the leader in the eye and “was able to get a sense of his soul.”

Trump attended a state dinner in Hanoi late Saturday, showering Vietnam with praise, saying it has “truly become one of the great miracles of the world.”

On Sunday, he’ll meet with the country’s president and prime minister before heading to the Philippines, the final stop on his whirlwind tour of Asia. 

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