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Trump Backs Off Russia Comments        07/18 06:19

   Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. 
enemy, President Donald Trump backed away from his public undermining of 
American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw 
no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a 
longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump backed away from his public 
undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when 
he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. 

   Rebuked as never before by his own party, including a stern pushback from 
usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the U.S. president 
sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error.

   "The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why I wouldn't, or 
why it wouldn't be Russia'" instead of "why it would," Trump said Tuesday of 
the comments he had made standing alongside Vladimir Putin on the summit stage 
in Helsinki.

   That didn't explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat 
for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long 
to correct his remarks. And the scripted cleanup pertained only to the least 
defensible of his comments.

   He didn't reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to 
Putin's "extremely strong and powerful" denial of Russian involvement, raised 
doubts about his own intelligence agencies' conclusions and advanced 
discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.

   He also accused past American leaders, rather than Russia's destabilizing 
actions in the U.S. and around the world, for the souring of relations between 
two countries. And he did not address his other problematic statements during a 
week-long Europe tour, in which he sent the NATO alliance into emergency 
session and assailed British Prime Minister Theresa May as she was hosting him 
for an official visit.

   "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in 
the 2016 election took place," Trump conceded Tuesday. But even then he made a 
point of adding, "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. 
There was no collusion at all."

   Moments earlier, McConnell felt the need to reassure America's allies in 
Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.

   With no if's or but's, the GOP leader declared, "The European countries are 
our friends, and the Russians are not."

   Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was trying to "squirm 
away" from his comments alongside Putin. "It's 24 hours too late and in the 
wrong place," he said.

   By dusk, hundreds of activists, led by attorney Michael Avenatti and actress 
Alyssa Milano, staged a protest near the White House, with chants of "traitor!" 
echoing along Pennsylvania Avenue.

   Trump still maintained that his meetings with NATO allies went well and his 
summit with Putin "even better." But this reference to diplomatic success 
carried an edge, too, since the barrage of criticism and insults he delivered 
in Brussels and London was hardly well-received.

   Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "The meeting between President Putin and 
myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!"

   On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping 
fresh sanctions on Russia, but they showed no sign of acting any time soon.

   "Let's be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our 
elections," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally. 
"What we intend to do is make sure they don't get away with it again and also 
to help our allies."

   In the Senate, McConnell said "there's a possibility" his chamber would act, 
pointing to a bipartisan measure from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Chris 
Van Hollen, D-Md., to deter future Russian interference by ordering sanctions 
against countries if they do.

   Both parties called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials 
to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump's 
two-hour private session with Putin. Pompeo is to publicly testify before the 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.

   Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for 
U.S. elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary 
Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into 
Russian election interference.

   But minority Democrats have few tools to enforce anything.

   In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi staged a vote Tuesday in 
support of the intelligence committee's findings that Russia interfered in the 
2016 election. But even that largely symbolic measure was blocked party-line by 

   Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, and Republican Jeff Flake of 
Arizona said he was preparing a bipartisan bill. But The No. 2 Republican, Sen. 
John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding 
resolution that amounts to "just some messaging exercise."

   Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the 
international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor 
--- but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

   Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the 
Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's 
federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email 
accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

   "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that 
President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

   "He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why 
it would be," Trump said. That's the part he corrected on Tuesday.

   White House officials did not elaborate on how Trump came to issue the 
clarification, but administration aides described being stunned by his initial 
remarks Monday. GOP leaders, outraged by Trump's comments in Helsinki, found 
out about his attempts to quell the outrage the same way everyone else did, as 
one aide put it, by watching and learning.

   After his walkback, Trump said his administration would "move aggressively" 
to repel efforts to interfere in American elections.

   "We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 
2018," he said. "And we have a lot of power."

   Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a 
half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned from what 
he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.

   Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul emerged as one of the president's few defenders. He 
cited Trump's experience on the receiving end of "partisan investigations."

   Back at the White House, Paul's comments drew a presidential tweet of 
gratitude: "Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!"


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