HANOI, Vietnam — After coming under fire for seemingly questioning the assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump on Sunday said he trusts the current leadership of the United States’ intelligence agencies.
During a press conference here, Trump sought to clarify comments he made aboard Air Force One on Saturday, in which he said of Putin denying influencing the election, “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
On Sunday, Trump said those comments were not meant to imply he personally believes that Russia didn’t seek to manipulate the election. Instead, Trump said he was simply stating that he believes Putin is being sincere when he says he wasn’t involved.
“What I said there is that I believe [Putin] believes that and that’s very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said during a press conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.
He continued, “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intelligence agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”
Trump’s Saturday comments sparked outrage in the United States. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others strongly criticized the president for seeming to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies. Current and former U.S. officials have said they believe with high confidence that Russia sought to manipulate the election in Trump’s favor.
During his Air Force One comments, the president slammed past leadership of U.S. intelligence agencies, suggesting they were out to get him. “I mean, give me a break. They’re political hacks,” he said.
But on Sunday, he said he’s comfortable with the current crop of officials in charge of the agencies, who have continued to maintain Russia tried to influence the election.
“As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies,” Trump said in Hanoi.
The president reiterated his concerns that the focus on election meddling could harm U.S.-Russia relations, adding that Moscow could be powerful ally. And he appeared to sympathize with Russia for having been heavily sanctioned by the United States and other countries.
“Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned and they were sanctioned at a very high level and that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken,” he said.
Trump added, “And I feel that having Russia in a friendly posture, as opposed to always fighting with them, is an asset to the world and an asset to our country, not a liability.”
Trump also weighed in on his recent tweet asserting that he is trying to be friends with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“I think anything is a possibility,” he said. “Strange things happen in life.”