Washington Post — By Karen DeYoung, Ashley Parker and David Nakamura November 11 at 11:37 PM
President Trump said that President Vladimir Putin had assured him again Saturday that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign, and indicated that he believed Putin’s sincerity, drawing immediate criticism from lawmakers and former intelligence officials who assessed that the meddling took place.
“I asked him again,” Trump said after what he described as several brief, informal chats with Putin in Danang, Vietnam, where they were attending a regional conference. “You can only ask so many times . . . He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.
“I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it . . . I think he’s very insulted, if you want to know the truth,” Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One from Danang to Hanoi, on the ninth day of a long Asia tour. Trump voiced similar conclusions after his only previous meeting with Putin, last July in Germany.
Trump’s response to questions about his conversations with Putin was a jarring return to the more insular preoccupations of Washington after more than a week of what has been a trip filled with pageantry and pledges of mutual admiration, but few substantive outcomes, between Trump and Asian leaders.
ater, in a news conference Sunday in Hanoi with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Trump appeared to be trying to parse his earlier remarks, saying, “What I said is that I believe [Putin] believes that.
“As to whether I believe it or not,” he said, “I’m with our [intelligence] agencies, especially as currently constituted.
“I want to be able . . . to get along with Russia,” Trump said. “I’m not looking to stand and argue with somebody when there are reporters standing all around.”
Reporters were not permitted inside the hall where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference was held in Danang.
In a tweetstorm Sunday morning, in which he also disparaged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump continued to bash critics of his relationship with Moscow, calling them “haters and fools” who don’t understand the importance of having a good relationship with Russia.
On Saturday, in his Air Force One remarks, Trump suggested that what he called the “artificial Democratic hit job” of investigations of possible collusion between his campaign and Russia were somehow preventing U.S.-Russia cooperation on a range of issues, including North Korea. “It’s a shame,” he said, “because people will die because of it.”
Putin, in his own news conference after speaking with Trump, said he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials, and called reports that a campaign official met with his niece “bollocks,” according to an interpreter.
“They can do what they want, looking for some sensation,” Putin said of the investigations. “But there are no sensations.”
On Saturday, Trump described the former top U.S. intelligence officials who concluded in January that the tampering took place — including former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and former CIA director John Brennan — as “political hacks.” He called former FBI director James B. Comey, who testified to Congress that Trump asked him to drop an investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russian officials, a “liar” and a “leaker.”
Clapper said in a statement that “the president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election. His own DNI and CIA director have confirmed the finding in the intelligence community assessment. The fact that he would take Putin at his word over the intelligence community is unconscionable.”
Brennan declined to comment.
In a statement, the CIA said that Director Mike Pompeo “stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community assessment . . . with regard to Russian election meddling.” That position, it said, “has not changed.” The assessment also concluded that Russia had acted to promote Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Although Pompeo said last month that intelligence agencies had determined that Russian interference had not altered the electoral outcome, the assessment did not address that question.
Former CIA director Michael V. Hayden said he was so concerned by Trump’s statement that he contacted the agency to confirm that it stood by the January assessment. He described Trump’s remarks as “egregious comments on the character of folks who have been public servants . . . [and] the public should know that these guys are thoroughgoing professionals, and what the president left unsaid is that the people he put into these jobs agree with the so-called hacks.”
Senior officials in the intelligence community will be dismayed by the disparagement of two respected intelligence veterans, Hayden said. “People have a right to ask at senior levels: ‘Does what I do make a difference anymore?’ ”
Michael Morell, a former acting director and deputy director of the CIA, said Trump was “biting hook, line and sinker” the word of Putin, a former intelligence officer who is a “trained liar and manipulator.” Although progress had been made in the intelligence community’s initial raw relationship with Trump, Morell said in an email, “this will most definitely be a step backward.”
Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the panels investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, said he was left “completely speechless” by Trump’s willingness to take Putin’s word “over the conclusions of our own combined intelligence community.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement: “Instead of criticizing the Russian leader for the audacity of his interference and denials, he attacked Directors Brennan, Clapper and Comey . . . But the President fools no one. He understands that the Russians intervened through the hacking and dumping of his opponents emails, the fruits of which he exploited time and again on the campaign trail.”
Several Republican members of the Senate and House intelligence panels did not respond to requests to comment on Trump’s remarks.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement that “there’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community . . . Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.”
- Washinton Post article link here: s://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-insists-putin-means-it-in-denying-election-meddling-critics-say-thats-unconscionable/2017/11/11/af0b7c9e-c71a-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?tid=hybrid_collaborative_2_na&utm_term=.f9452dde1d83