US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo together urged US President Donald Trump to make clear his position on Russian interference in the 2016 elections after Trump drew a storm of criticism for apparently clearing Moscow of wrongdoing.
Pence and Pompeo held a conversation with Trump on Tuesday in the Oval Office during which they advised Trump to “make clarifications” about his position on Russian election meddling, NBC News reported, citing a source familiar with the conversation.
Later that day, Trump declared he had misspoken when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the vote that put him in office.
Speaking at the White House ahead of a meeting with Republican lawmakers, Trump said, “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’ instead of ‘why it would.’”
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. But he added, as he usually does, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”
His comments came — amid rising rebuke by his own party — about 27 hours after his original, widely reported statement, which he made at a summit Monday in Helsinki standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During that press conference, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That was the part he corrected on Tuesday.
In Helsinki, Putin said he had indeed wanted Trump to win the election — a revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump’s performance — but had taken no action to make it happen.