Trump, facing fury, says he misspoke with Putin
Posted July 17, 2018 8:30 a.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2018 4:41 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Donald Trump, facing an onslaught of bipartisan fury over his glowing remarks about Vladimir Putin, said more than 24 hours afterward that he had misspoken during his news conference with the autocratic Russian leader.
In one of the only times of his presidency he's admitted to a mistake, Trump said that when he returned Monday from the summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, he "realized there is some need for clarification" about his remarks on Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
"In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " Trump said Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
"The sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia,' " he said. "Sort of a double negative."
During Monday's news conference, Trump said, "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia who interfered in the election.
The admission came in the White House Cabinet Room, where Trump was sitting with lawmakers for an otherwise unrelated meeting. Reading prepared remarks to reporters, Trump reiterated that there had been no collusion between his campaign and Russia and that the country's efforts had no impact on the final election results.
And he voiced support for US intelligence agencies -- a day after he had refused to accept their findings on Russia's election interference over Putin's denials -- and vowed to take action to prevent further attacks.
"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said. But diverting from his typewritten notes, the President added: "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there."
It was an attempt at clarification that came after uproarious anger at Trump's performance in Helsinki. Even many members of the President's own party rebuked his statements from nearly the moment he departed the Finnish capital. Yet it took more than a day for him or the White House to offer any official walk-back.
Top national security officials had huddled in the White House Situation Room on Tuesday to develop a response to the fallout. The meeting resulted in a determination that Trump would need to clarify his remarks. Top officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, were involved in crafting the statement that Trump delivered from the Cabinet Room.
The President made some of his own additions to what his aides prepared; he scrawled in black marker that "THERE WAS NO COLLUSION" on one page.
The appearance was not without farce. As Trump was declaring his "full faith and support" for US intelligence agencies, the lights in the Cabinet Room went dark.
"That must be the intelligence agencies," he quipped. The lighting was quickly restored.
Earlier Tuesday, the President had offered a defiant rebuke of his critics, writing on Twitter: "While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia."
"Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy!" he proclaimed.
Trump's self-defense, however, was unlikely to quell the uproar caused by Monday's news conference.
The conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal declared the news conference "a personal and national embarrassment" for the President, asserting he'd "projected weakness." Newt Gingrich, ordinarily a reliable voice of support, wrote on Twitter the remarks were "the most serious mistake of his presidency."
Members of Congress, including several powerful Republicans, distanced themselves from Trump's remarks and aligned themselves with US intelligence estimates that Russia had interfered in the election.
Trump surprised at fierce criticism
Immediately after Monday's news conference, Trump's mood had been buoyant, people familiar with the matter said. He walked off stage in Helsinki with little inkling his remarks would cause the firestorm they did, and was instead enthusiastic about what he felt was a successful summit.
By the time he'd returned to the White House just before 10 pm ET on Monday, however, his mood had soured. Predictably, the President was upset when he saw negative coverage of the summit on television aboard Air Force One. It was clear he was getting little support, even from the usual places.
He vented to aides traveling with him, including new communications chief Bill Shine and policy aide Stephen Miller. First lady Melania Trump was also aboard and was involved in some of the discussions, the people familiar with the matter said.
Trump, the first lady, Shine and Miller were seen in animated conversation aboard Marine One when they arrived to the White House South Lawn on Monday evening.