Trump flip-flops again on Putin meeting

A puppet in the image of US President Donald Trump, labelled by critics as "Putin's Puppet", put up by protesters outside the White House on Wednesday. On his conflicting remarks, the White House said Mr Trump was misunderstood.
A puppet in the image of US President Donald Trump, labelled by critics as "Putin's Puppet", put up by protesters outside the White House on Wednesday. On his conflicting remarks, the White House said Mr Trump was misunderstood.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Conflicting remarks on Russia sow more confusion over two leaders' summit

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has sown even more confusion over his recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin, insisting after a day of conflicting statements about Russia's interference in the 2016 election that he had actually laid down the law with Mr Putin.

"I let him know we can't have this," Mr Trump said in an interview with CBS Evening News that was aired on Wednesday. "We're not going to have it, and that's the way it's going to be."

But the statement was almost completely at odds with how the President has characterised the meeting with Mr Putin on Monday in Helsinki, and it contradicted an answer he appeared to give when asked earlier in the day if he believed Russia was still interfering in US elections and he said "no".

The White House claimed that Mr Trump had yet again been misunderstood. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President had said "no" only to whether he would take questions during a Cabinet meeting, not to whether Russia was still interfering.

"We believe that the threat still exists," she said, "which is why we are taking steps to prevent it."

It was the second day of reversals and semantic hair-splitting in the President's statements on Russia.

The White House claimed Mr Trump had yet again been misunderstood. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President had said "no" only to whether he would take questions during a Cabinet meeting, not to whether Russia was still interfering.

On Tuesday, he said he had meant to say at a news conference in Helsinki that he disagreed with a statement by Mr Putin on Russia not being involved in election meddling, not that he agreed with it.

The flip-flops came as it emerged that Mr Putin had proposed what Mr Trump described as an "incredible offer" during their meeting: The Kremlin would give Special Counsel Robert Mueller access to interviews with Russians indicted for hacking Democrats in 2016.

In return, Russia would be allowed to question certain US officials it suspects of interfering in Russian affairs. One of those American officials is former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, who is a nemesis of the Kremlin because of his criticisms of Russia's human rights record and support for sanctions against the country.

Mr Trump made no commitments to the Russian leader when Mr Putin raised the idea at a private meeting in Helsinki and was "going to meet with his team", Ms Sanders said on Wednesday.

Allowing the interrogation of a former American ambassador would be an unprecedented breach in protections traditionally provided to the nation's diplomats.

Mr Trump hit out at his critics in a tweet yesterday.

"The Fake News Media wants so badly to see a major confrontation with Russia, even a confrontation that could lead to war. They are pushing so recklessly hard and hate the fact that I'll probably have a good relationship with Putin. We are doing much better than any other country!" he tweeted.

In a separate tweet, he said he looked forward to a second meeting with Mr Putin.

"The summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media. I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more," he wrote.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'Trump flip-flops again on Putin meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe