Trump plays both sides on poll meddling

US President Donald Trump on Sunday tried to have it both ways on the issue of Russian interference in last year's presidential race.

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017.

US President Donald Trump on Sunday tried to have it both ways on the issue of Russian interference in last year’s presidential race, saying he believes the US intelligence agencies’ accusations of Russian meddling and Vladimir Putin’s sincerity in claiming that his country did not.

“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said of Russia’s president.

“As to whether I believe it, I’m with our agencies. As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

The CIA and other US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

A special counsel’s examination of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides has led to indictments against Trump’s former campaign chairman and another top aide for crimes unrelated to the campaign, and a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser.

Several congressional committees are also investigating the matter.

Trump made the comments in Hanoi on Sunday before he arrived in the Philippines, the final stop on a five-country trip to Asia. 

Questions about whether Trump believes the assessment about Russia’s meddling in the US election have dogged him since January, when he said for the first time, shortly before taking office, that he accepted that Russia was behind the election-year hacking of Democrats that roiled the race for the White House.

Trump said on Saturday that Putin had again vehemently denied the allegations. The two spoke during an economic conference in Danang, Vietnam. Trump sidestepped questions about whether he believed Putin, but stressed Putin’s denials.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said, arguing that it made no sense for him to belabor the issue when Russia could help the US on North Korea, Syria and other issues.

Trump said on Sunday that he believed that Putin believed Russia was not involved.

“That’s very important for somebody to believe,” he said.

The US president also lashed out on Saturday at former heads of US intelligence agencies, claiming there were many reasons to be suspicious of their findings and dismissing them as “political hacks.”

Writing on Twitter on Sunday, Trump bashed the “haters and fools” he said were questioning his efforts to improve relations with Russia, and accused critics of “playing politics” and hurting the US.

Trump also pointed to sanctions that the US had imposed on Russia as punishment for meddling in the US election. “They were sanctioned at a very high level, and that took place very recently,” he said. “It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

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