“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
And just like that the President of the United States sided with one of his nation’s longest rivals over US intelligence on the subject of Russian meddling in the 2016 election – and the fallout was felt far and wide.
Political allies were nervous about the summit beforehand and their apprehension proved correct in the eventual meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday. The two-hour private meeting and subsequent press conference raised eyebrows as Trump all but embraced Putin in their first official engagement together.
The biggest revelation came from Trump’s seeming dismissal of US intelligence on the subject of Russian meddling in the previous election. His comments directly conflicted with an assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released last year. It stated that Russian leadership favored presidential candidate Trump over Clinton, and that Putin personally ordered an “influence campaign” to harm Clinton’s chances and “undermine public faith in the US democratic process”.
Public outrage and media criticism saw Trump attempt to clarify his summit comments. The President held a press conference on Tuesday to say his key quote should have been that he didn’t “see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia'”
“Sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself,” he said.
BREAKING: President Trump claims he misspoke while discussing election meddling during news conference with Putin: "In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't.' … The sentence should've been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia'" pic.twitter.com/2bA9EionD1
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 17, 2018
However, he then further fueled debate on Wednesday when he said he did not believe Russia was still targeting the United States.
Reporters queried Trump at the start of a cabinet meeting about whether he believed Russia was “still targeting the US”, to which Trump responded: “No.” The White House quickly worked to clarify Trump’s comments and claimed the President was responding “no” to accepting further reporter questions.
“Certainly, we believe the threat still exists,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, later told reporters.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats certainly did not mince his words when it came to his view on Russia and their continued threat against US democracy.
“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Officially both leaders viewed the summit as a success. Trump took to Twitter shortly after the Monday meet to declare: “While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting.”
Similarly, Putin claimed the summit paved the way for positive changes to bilateral relations. “We will see how things go, as some forces in America are trying to undermine the results of the Helsinki meeting,” Russian state media agency Tass reported Putin as saying.
The summit did not play well with voters. Only one-third of American voters, or 32 per cent, approved of Trump’s performance at the Helsinki summit according to a news poll by CBS News.
The mystery remains as to what the pair actually discussed once the doors were closed and microphones switched off in their private two-hour discussion.