Trump declared the US and Russia may create "an impenetrable" cybersecurity group
Hours later, however, he appeared to back away from the suggestion
President Donald Trump, hours after returning from his second foreign trip as president, declined to refute the Russian account of his meeting with Vladimir Putin, leaving their assertion that he accepted the Russian president’s denial of 2016 election meddling unchallenged.
And he declared the US and Russia may create “an impenetrable” cybersecurity group that will no doubt raise eyebrows and suspicions from both American and allied intelligence officials and lawmakers. Hours later, however, he appeared to back away from the suggestion.
Putin and Trump met for over two hours Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The President made his opinion clear a day before his meeting with Putin.
“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and or countries. I see nothing wrong with that statement,” Trump said during a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Thursday. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
Minutes after Trump’s meeting with Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went on camera and told reporters that Trump accepted Putin’s assurances there was no Russian involvement in the 2016 American election.
“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all,” Lavrov said, according to a CNN translation.
A senior Trump administration official immediately denied that Trump accepted Putin’s claim of non-interference. But no top Trump aides immediately said – on the record – that Trump didn’t accept Putin’s explanation. Asked three times about how Trump responded to Putin on Saturday, chief economist Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin all declined to knock down those remarks when pressed by reporters, deferring instead to Trump himself.
“President Trump will be happy to make statements himself about that,” Mnuchin said. “But President Trump handled himself brilliantly. It was very clear that he made his position felt, and after a very substantive dialogue on this, they agreed to move on to other discussions.”
Trump, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pressed Putin on election meddling and then moved on.
“I think what the two presidents, I think rightly, focused on is, how do we move forward,” he said. “How do we move forward from here?”
Later, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” White House chief of staff Reince Priebus disputed Lavrov’s remarks, saying Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.”
In Sunday’s tweets, the President, emphasized the efforts with Putin and once again hit the Democratic National Committee, which was hacked in the run-up to last year’s election
“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded…. ..and safe. “Questions were asked about why the CIA & FBI had to ask the DNC 13 times for their SERVER, and were rejected, still don’t… have it. Fake News said 17 intel agencies when actually 4 (had to apologize). Why did Obama do NOTHING when he had info before election,” he wrote in a series of tweets.
Sunday night, however, Trump downplayed his suggestion of a joint US-Russia cybersecurity effort.
“The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!” Trump tweeted, referring to an agreement the two nations reached over Syria.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Priebus disputed Lavrov’s comments about the Trump-Putin exchange on the subject of Russian interference in the US election.