Trump distances himself from remarks on Putin over election meddling

US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam.
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI (Reuters) - US President Donald Trump on Sunday (Nov 12) attempted to clear up confusion over whether he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials of meddling in the U.S. election last year. 

At a news conference in Vietnam, Trump distanced himself from remarks he made on Saturday (Nov 11) in which he suggested he believed Putin when he said there had been no Russian meddling in the election that took him to the White House.

The comments had drawn criticism at home because US intelligence agencies have long since concluded there was Russian meddling. 

"As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” Trump said at a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang. 

“As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

He was careful to make clear he sided with the intelligence agencies under his own leadership. 

Former US intelligence director James Clapper had told Reuters: “The fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.”

Earlier on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to slam "haters and fools" playing politics with Russia.  

"When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. There (sic) always playing politics - bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Russian issue has clouded Trump’s first year in office and his comments on Saturday were a distraction from his five-nation Asia tour.  Trump said he still believed Putin did not think there had been Russian meddling. 

“I believe that President Putin really feels, and feels strongly, that he did not meddle in our election,” Trump said, while adding: “What he believes is what he believes.”

Trump said he was not interested in arguing with Putin over meddling and wanted to get on with Russia to work on world problems including North Korea, Syria and Ukraine. Trump met Putin several times on the margins of the just-concluded APEC summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang.

Trump has called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax.

A special counsel, Robert Mueller, is conducting an investigation that has led to charges against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates. 

US intelligence agencies have also concluded Russians interfered to tip the election in Trump’s favour through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda.