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White House: Trump's remarks about Russian meddling misinterpreted

By
Sam Howard
President Donald Trump walks to the West Wing Wednesday after returning to the White House after a trip to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI
President Donald Trump walks to the West Wing Wednesday after returning to the White House after a trip to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

July 18 (UPI) -- One day after President Donald Trump clarified that he believes Russia likely interfered in the 2016 presidential election, he said Wednesday he thinks the Kremlin is no longer targeting the U.S. and its elections.

Trump made the comment Wednesday while answering questions during a Cabinet meeting. He added that he thinks he's been tougher on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, than any other U.S. president.

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However, during a White House news briefing later Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump's words were misinterpreted. She said Trump was answering "no" to reporters' requests to ask questions -- not to whether he believes Russia is still targeting the United States.

The president's assertion would conflict with a statement issued Monday by National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, who said Russia has "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy."

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Late last week at a Washington, D.C., think tank, Coats was even more blunt than he was in his statement Monday, according to CNBC.

"The warning lights are blinking red again," Coats said. "Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack."

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Trump's brief comment and Sanders' explanation were the latest statements in a week in which he's clarified his beliefs on Russian meddling multiple times, starting Monday at a summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

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In a joint news conference at the Finnish Presidential Palace, Trump said he did not "see any reason why" Russia would have meddled in the 2016 election -- a remark that surprised many because it's in direct conflict with the conclusions of the entire U.S. intelligence community. Then on Tuesday, Trump backpedaled and said he misspoke. He also said he has faith in U.S. intelligence agencies.

"In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" Trump said.

In an interview with CBS News on Wednesday, Trump re-emphasized his belief that Russians meddled in the election. He told CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor that he holds Putin personally responsible.

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"Well, I would [consider him personally responsible], because he's in charge of the country," Trump told Glor. "Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes."

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