Two of President Donald Trump’s top aides on Sunday defended his “Russian hoax” line, saying he was referring to allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
“I think what he’s saying by the hoax is the idea that somehow the Russians directed and controlled his campaign or direct and control his administration – that there was some conspiracy or some violation of US law in 2016,” John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway made a similar point on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” saying the line was about allegations against Trump and his campaign and was not in reference to alleged Russian attempts to interfere in the US political system.
“When the President says Russia hoax, he’s not talking about Russian meddling,” Conway said. “He’s been very clear about that. … The President, when he says Russia hoax, he means the investigation and some others on TV, never under oath, wanting to suggest that somehow Russian meddling in the 2016 election was successful in changing a single vote or indeed the electoral outcome, and we know that.”
Both Bolton and Conway said the joint briefing by Bolton and other top national security officials on Thursday showed Trump’s concern about meddling by foreign actors in the US.
“The whole point of that was to show what his administration was doing to counter Russian meddling and other broader influence operations right now,” Bolton said.
On Thursday, those officials said Russia was continuing efforts to try to interfere in the US political system, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Trump had directed them “to make the matter of election meddling and securing our election process a top priority.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania later Thursday, defended his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month and said, “Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax – it’s a hoax, OK?”
At a rally in Ohio on Saturday, Trump mentioned meddling efforts explicitly and said the US needed to stop attempts by several foreign powers.
“We have to stop meddling and stop everybody from attacking us,” Trump said. “But there are a lot. Russia is there, China is there. We are doing well with North Korea, but they’re probably there.”
Conway pointed to those remarks in her interview on Sunday, and dismissed allegations against the Trump campaign as an “unproven fantasy.”