One day after Trump caused the latest round of broad media outrage when he reportedly sided with Putin over Russia's alleged "election interference", while slamming US intel agencies, and repeating his allegation that the investigation is a ‘hoax’, and the FBI a “bunch of hacks,” Trump reversed himself and "cleared up confusion" over whether he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling in the U.S. election last year.
Speaking at a news conference in Vietnam with President Tran Dai Quang on Sunday morning local time, Trump distanced himself from remarks he made one day earlier in which he suggested he believed Putin when he said there had been no Russian meddling in the election that took him to the White House. The comments drew a backlash of criticism at home because US intelligence agencies have long since "concluded" there was Russian meddling.
Trump clarifies his comments on Putin + election hacking: "I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether or not I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies" pic.twitter.com/nDqJqeytkk— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) November 12, 2017
As a result, Trump was careful to make clear he sided with the intelligence agencies under his own leadership: "What I said is, I believe Putin believes that," Trump told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam. "I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. What he believes is what he believes."
Trump then added that "as to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted, with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies. I've worked with them very strongly."
The comment was made shortly after Trump tweeted that "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 always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!"
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 always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
Still, despite the backlash driven clarification, Trump has repeatedly called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax, angering US intel chiefs. U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded Russians interfered to tip the election in Trump’s favour through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda, in a year-long attempt to deflect attention from Hillary Clinton's shocking loss, and scapegoat it on outside actors.
On Saturday, former U.S. intelligence director James Clapper told Reuters: “the fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.”
As noted above, Trump's comments siding with intel agencies bizarrely also come after he hit former U.S. intelligence officials by name, including former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former FBI Director James Comey.
"I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks," Trump said on Air Force One, according to White House pool reports. He was discussing the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump. "So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey," he continued. "Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker.”
Separately, also during his meeting with the Vietnam president, Trump offered to mediate and arbitrate in the dispute over the South China Sea, where four Southeast Asian countries and Taiwan contest China’s sweeping claims to the busy waterway. “I am a very good mediator and a very good arbitrator,” President Trump said during his meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi. “If I can be of help in any way let me know.”
Trump also said that U.S. and Vietnam “will be great trade partners" and added that "we’re going to do a tremendous amount of trade...billions and billions."