President Donald Trump on Tuesday responded to the widespread condemnation of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that he believes the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. His words came a day after he sided with Putin in an extraordinary press conference.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” he said Tuesday, appearing to read from prepared remarks, before suggesting that it “could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
During Monday’s press conference with Putin, he refused to condemn Russia’s interference, saying that he accepted the Russian president’s denial and took Putin’s word over the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies, which he has continually attacked during his presidency.
“President Putin just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
But on Tuesday, Trump claimed that he misspoke, explaining that he meant to say that he saw no reason why it would not be Russia.
“I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’” he said.
He deviated from his prepared remarks to return to a familiar talking point: “There was no collusion,” which he appeared to have handwritten on the printed statement he was reading from on his desk.
According to NBC News, before his prepared remarks Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s national security advisers convened a previously unscheduled meeting.
Trump’s attempt to walk back his remarks resembled his response to pushback from his moral equivalence remarks following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year in which he blamed “both sides” for the violence, before reading a prepared statement condemning the white supremacist groups — and then later doubling down on his original remarks.
“He was on good behavior for a day [and] then he switched back again,” Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters Tuesday, comparing the president’s response to his remarks after the Charlottesville rally.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, called the entire situation a “debacle.”
“This has been more than unfortunate,” Murkowski told reporters on Tuesday. “So the fact that he’s retracing his steps is important, but he sure stepped in it yesterday.”
Trump received near-universal condemnation of his Monday remarks, even from many Republicans. Just hours after the stunning press conference, he defended his statements during a friendly Fox News interview with host Sean Hannity, an informal adviser to Trump.
Trump has previously claimed that he believes the U.S. intelligence agencies. Yet he also regularly discredits them.
In addition, he previously suggested that other countries, not necessarily Russia, could have interfered in the election.
“It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey,” he told Time magazine in November 2016. “I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
In January 2017, he suggested that he believed it was Russia, but added that “I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”
This post has been updated with more details about Trump’s previous comments about election interference and with responses from lawmakers.