Tuesday, March 26, 2019
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After backlash, Trump says misspoke on Russian election meddling

US president says he accepts conclusion by intelligence officials that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.

Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump has been forced to backtrack after a media storm following his seeming defence of Russia over claims of meddling in his country's presidential elections in 2016.

Republican and Democrat politicians in the US, as well as intelligence officials, on Monday denounced Trump's failure to challenge his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over interference in the elections, calling his responses at a joint news conference in Finland as "shameful" and "disgraceful".

Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke when he addressed reporters in Helsinki a day earlier.

READ MORE: Trump faces bipartisan rebuke over 'treasonous' summit with Putin

"I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,'" Trump told reporters on Tuesday. "The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.'"

He also said he accepts the conclusion by US intelligence officials that Moscow interfered in the election, which saw Trump defeat Democrat rival Hillary Clinton .

He also denied that his campaign had colluded in the effort and maintained that Russia's action had no impact on the result. 

In the Finnish capital, Trump had refused to say he believed US intelligence agencies over Russia's denials of meddling and delivered no condemnation of Moscow's interference.

Trump slammed

The political firestorm over Trump's performance at the Helsinki news conference has engulfed the administration and spread to his fellow Republicans, eclipsing most of the frequent controversies that have erupted during Trump's turbulent 18 months in office.

Taking direct issue with the president who appointed him, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said US spy agencies have been "clear" and "fact-based" in their assessment that Moscow interfered in the presidential race two years ago.

John McCain, the senior Republican senator, said Trump's seeming acceptance of Putin's denial was a historical "low point" for the US presidency.

The language used by Democrats was much harsher, including accusations of "treason".

"For the president of the US to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defence officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak," Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said.

Democratic California Representative Jimmy Gomez charged: "To side with Putin over US intelligence is disgusting; to fail to defend the US is on the verge of treason."

Some lawmakers said they would seek remedies against Russia in Congress.

Several senators from both parties backed tougher sanctions on Russia, but it was unclear if Republican congressional leaders would support such a move or what new sanctions might be crafted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called Russia's government "menacing," said he would consider additional sanctions on Russia and reiterated his support for U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Last week, the US Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers.

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