Trump Responds To Fallout From Helsinki

Jul 18, 2018
Originally published on July 18, 2018 7:04 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So here is what President Trump says now without Russia's President Vladimir Putin standing at his side.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place.

GREENE: This clarification of sorts came after some serious blowback to Trump's comments the day before when he spoke with Putin in Helsinki and seemed to take the Russian president's word about Russian election interference over that of U.S. intelligence agencies. Still, President Trump did suggest yesterday that others may have interfered as well.

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TRUMP: Could be other people also - a lot of people out there.

GREENE: Let's bring in NPR political correspondent Sarah McCammon who's in our studio this morning.

Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Can we just step back for a second here? So the president has long maintained that a lot of the fears about Russia are overblown. So this kind of rollback aside - I mean, the Helsinki remarks were fairly consistent with his long-held views. Republicans...

MCCAMMON: Right.

GREENE: ...Have been reluctant to say much about it for - in terms of disagreeing with him over time. Is that changing now?

MCCAMMON: Well, I think we saw a lot more forceful pushback from Republicans to the president's initial comments in Helsinki. I mean, yesterday, both House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, came out, you know, criticizing and disagreeing with those comments, reaffirming the involvement of Russia - you know, the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia did interfere in the 2016 election. So yeah, we're seeing, I think, again, more forceful pushback from Republicans than we've seen on a lot of things.

GREENE: So if there is sort of a division within the party over this, the president rolling this back and changing his comments may not have changed that.

MCCAMMON: Well, it's - you know, the damage has been done in many ways. There's been a lot of concern, a bipartisan concern from, you know, not just congressional leaders but also the intelligence community, despite what the president tweeted this morning. He said, (reading) so many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki.

The reality, David, is that a lot of both Republican and Democratic members of the intelligence community have raised a lot of alarm about this. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said, Vladimir Putin isn't our friend - and across the spectrum, you know, raising alarms about the danger of appearing to side with Russia on something this serious.

GREENE: Well, speaking of someone who has been inside the intelligence community, you have Mike Pompeo who led the CIA. Now he is secretary of state. He is set to appear, I believe, next week in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, probably to talk about this summit. I mean, he's going to be in the hot seat in a way.

MCCAMMON: Certainly. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of that committee, has been a frequent Trump critic and is among those who have raised a lot of concerns about the president's comments. It's been reported that he requested that hearing. And that's certainly something that's going to come up at that hearing. It's likely that senators will want to know more about both what the president said behind closed doors with Vladimir Putin. Of course, that assumes that Pompeo has the details of that meeting. Russian leaders have come out and said that they reached some security agreements with the president. The White House hasn't said a whole lot about that, said they'll have more details later. So lots of questions to answer there.

GREENE: A one-on-one meeting - we may never know exactly what took place...

MCCAMMON: For sure.

GREENE: ...Between those two leaders.

NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.