BBC — November 12, 2017
President Donald Trump appears to have rowed back on comments suggesting he believed the Russian president’s denials of meddling in the US election.
He was widely criticised after saying Vladimir Putin had been insulted by the allegations of Russian interference.
On Sunday, Mr Trump clarified that he supported US intelligence agencies, who have long concluded that Russia tried to sway the 2016 poll in his favour.
The two leaders briefly discussed the allegations at an Asia-Pacific summit.
Questions surrounding Russia’s role in last year’s US elections and allegations of collusion involving Donald Trump’s campaign team have dogged his presidency. Legal action has already been taken against several of his former aides as part of a justice department inquiry.
Until now, President Trump has refused to acknowledge intelligence agency findings that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to the poll.
How has Mr Trump backtracked?
After brief conversations with President Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec), Mr Trump briefed reporters on Saturday on what had been said about Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
“Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.
“I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
He also disparaged key figures in the US intelligence community who concluded in January that Russian meddling had taken place, including former national intelligence chief James Clapper, ex-CIA director John Brennan and sacked FBI chief James Comey, whom he called “political hacks”.
Mr Trump and Mr Putin had three brief conversations over the weekend in Vietnam.
Asked to clarify his comments on Mr Putin’s denials during a press conference with the Vietnamese president on Sunday, Mr Trump said: “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted.”
Drawing a clear line between the current and previous leadership of the FBI, CIA and national intelligence he said “As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
“What he believes, he believes,” he added, of Mr Putin’s belief that Russia did not meddle in the presidential campaign.
He later took to Twitter to attack “haters and fools”, who, he said, did not encourage good relations between Russia and the US.
In his tweets, Mr Trump also said his predecessor, Barack Obama, had lacked “chemistry” with President Putin.
What was the reaction?
Mr Trump’s original comments came under vehement criticism at home with lawmakers and intelligence figures questioning whether he had accepted the Russian president’s denials of interference, despite intelligence findings to the contrary.
Republican Senator John McCain, a strident critic of Mr Trump, called him naive for “taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community”
Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted: “You know who else is insulted by it, Mr President? The American people. You believe a foreign adversary over your own intelligence agencies.”
Mr Clapper told Reuters: “The fact that he would take Putin at his word over the intelligence community is unconscionable.”
A CIA statement passed to US media said: “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.”