“The president appeared Wednesday to walk back his walk-backs on Kremlin interference in the 2016 election.”
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he was tripped up by a double negative. On Wednesday, the White House claimed he was simply declining to respond when he replied “no” to a reporter’s question about whether Russia is still targeting America’s democratic government.
Trump’s position on Russian interference in America’s elections has devolved into a game of semantics, with Trump loudly casting doubt on the assessment of his own intelligence agencies only to half-heartedly backtrack when his comments draw forceful condemnation, including from members of his own party.
For the third day in a row, Trump and his top aides spent Wednesday clarifying the president’s remarks on Russia, attempting to breathe new meaning into comments that Trump made not in secretive closed-door meetings, but on national television or on Twitter for all to see.
During a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump was asked by a reporter if Russia was continuing to target U.S. elections. He looked at the reporter and said “no,” adding that the United States, in his estimation, has been tougher on Russia than any of his predecessors.
That assessment would contradict the U.S. intelligence community, including Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has said Russia continues to target the United States.
But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters later Wednesday afternoon that Trump had in fact not said anything of the sort. “The president said thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions,” Sanders told incredulous reporters in the White House briefing room, adding later, “I talked to the president. He wasn’t answering that question.”
The reporter who asked the question, ABC News White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, tweeted later Wednesday, “Yes, he was looking directly at me when he spoke. Yes, I believe he heard me clearly.”