World Bulletin/News Desk
Facing widespread backlash, President Donald Trump sought to backpedal Tuesday from remarks in which he appeared to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials of responsibility for a widespread influence campaign in the 2016 election.
In addressing reporters at the White House, Trump said he misspoke during a joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, following hours of closed-door consultations.
At the conclusion of the summit Monday, Trump told reporters that while he has "great confidence" in the U.S. intelligence community, "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
Putin "just said it’s not Russia," Trump said. "I don’t see any reason why it would be."
Trump said the comments needed "some clarification" after his close allies called on his to change course.
"The sentence should've been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,'" Trump said at the White House. "I accept our intelligence community conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place."
America's intelligence agencies determined in January 2017 that Russia, operating under Putin's direction, sought to sway the outcome of the 2016 White House race through a multi-faceted effort aimed at undercutting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Putin has denied any Russian involvement.
Trump has in the past come under criticism for vacillating on his acceptance of Russia's responsibility.
His comments on Monday stirred widespread outrage, including from Trump's closest allies.
"President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin," former Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich said on Twitter. "It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately."
Gingrich was not alone. Pivotal members of Trump's own party accused him of "false equivalence."
"No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said in a tersely-worded statement.
Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill he is "very disappointed and saddened" by the "equivalency" Trump gave between his intelligence community and Putin's words.
"They definitely interfered in our election," he said. "That’s not debatable. And again, I just don’t know what it is about the president that he continues to deny that it occurred. I get the feeling, first hand actually, that sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally."
Former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump unceremoniously ousted, said Trump "sold out our nation."
"This was the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country," Comey said on Twitter. "Patriots need to stand up and reject the behavior of this president."
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