President Donald Trump continues to cast doubt on US intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential contest, just as his aides announced details of his upcoming summit talks with President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. He went on to question why US law enforcement agencies weren’t investigating other perceived influences on the election, which he has repeatedly said was rigged for his opponent Hillary Clinton.
“Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!” he wrote.
The President’s tweet was sent roughly a half hour before the White House announced the two leaders will meet on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland, where they will “discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues.”
Trump’s summit with Putin is likely to draw criticism from the US President’s domestic critics, who accuse him of currying favor with Putin, and jitter US allies, who fear Trump will take a less hawkish position with Russia on issues like the annexation of Crimea and military exercises near the Russian border in eastern Europe.
The summit takes place four days after a NATO meeting in Brussels, where Trump will meet leaders of US military allies. NATO members were worried that if the summit with Putin had taken place earlier, Trump might have agreed to something with the Russian leader that they would have been forced to go along with.
Top aides say Trump likely to raise issue
Speaking in Moscow on Wednesday, US national security adviser John Bolton said Trump would likely raise the election meddling issue during his sit-down with Putin. Bolton himself addressed it during his own meeting with Putin this week.
And he brushed aside suggestions that a Trump-Putin meeting would amount to conciliation from a President who intelligence agencies assess was favored by the Russian government.
“I think a lot of people have said or implied over time that a meeting between President Trump and President Putin somehow proves some nexus between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which is complete nonsense,” Bolton said in Moscow.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted during a CNN interview this weekend that Trump takes election meddling seriously.
“Make no mistake, President Trump agrees Russia interfering in our election is something they simply cannot do,” Pompeo said, referring to the midterm elections. “I don’t think he would take any umbrage with that.”
Pompeo said on Capitol Hill Wednesday he was “confident that when the President meets with Vladimir Putin, he will make clear that meddling in our elections is completely unacceptable.”
And pressed aboard Air Force Two during a trip in South America on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the meddling issue would arise during the Helsinki talks.
“He’s discussed that with President Putin before. I would anticipate that he will discuss that with him again,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Trump himself has been less committal. Asked in the Oval Office on Wednesday whether election meddling would arise in his talks with Putin, Trump turned to his Portuguese counterpart and said: “You never know with meetings, right? But I think a lot of good things can come from meetings with people.”
Trump keeps up attacks on Mueller probe
US intelligence agencies concluded in a January 2017 report that Russia sought to influence the presidential election in Trump’s favor.
“We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” the report read.
Two agencies — the CIA and the FBI — came to that assessment with “high confidence.” Another, the National Security Agency, arrived at that conclusion with “moderate confidence.”
Trump has only begrudgingly acknowledged that Russia may have interfered in the election. In a news conference as President-elect, Trump said, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” At a June 2017 news conference in Poland, he again said Russia meddled in the election, but added that “other people and other countries” likely did as well.
But the President has typically downplayed those conclusions, saying he takes Putin at his word when he says Moscow did not attempt to influence the election.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November, shortly after speaking with Putin on the sidelines of a leaders summit in Vietnam. That was the last time Trump and Putin met face-to-face.
After his tweet Thursday casting doubt on Russian election meddling, Trump lambasted the FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the agency’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
“When is Bob Mueller going to list his Conflicts of Interest? Why has it taken so long?” he wrote.
He added later: “How many people will be sent to jail and persecuted on old and/or totally unrelated charges (there was no collusion and there was no obstruction of the no collusion).”
“A disgraceful situation!” he wrote.