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Tapper: Trump undermined his own apology

CNN's Jake Tapper says President Trump took things to a new level with his statement clarifying his comments at the joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 2:16 AM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 2:36 AM

President Donald Trump had one clear mission when he spoke to the press Tuesday afternoon before meeting with a handful of congressional Republicans: Clean up the damage he did on Monday when he broke with the intelligence community by suggesting that Russia might not have been behind the 2016 election interference and arguing that there was blame on both sides of the matter.

"I have a full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies," Trump said, reading slowly from a page of written remarks -- a major break from his usual freewheeling style in these sorts of situations. Then, Trump added this: "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place -- could be other people also."

Focus on the five words at the end there: "Could be other people also."

Those five words not only totally undermine what Trump was trying to do with his post-Helsinki summit comments but also run afoul of the intelligence community's 2017 report on Russian interference in the election. That report, which carried the unanimous endorsement of the entire US intelligence community, said that Russia interfered in the election with the express goal of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Nowhere else in the IC report is there a mention of another country being even possibly responsible for the broad and deep election-meddling effort focused on the 2016 campaign.

What those five words reveal is that Trump is still not at all convinced that Russia was the one who interfered in the 2016 election -- or, at a minimum, that Russia acted alone. Which means that in purposely trying to fix the mess he made by suggesting he didn't totally believe his own intelligence community, Trump made the point that he doesn't totally believe his own intelligence community.

Context matters here too. This is far from the first time that Trump has, usually under considerable political pressure, acknowledged Russia probably sought to interfere in the 2016 election only to go back on that claim in subsequent weeks or months. Here's a brief walk-through of Trump's past admissions about Russia's involvement thanks to CNN's indispensable Marshall Cohen:

  • "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people." (January 2017)
  • "I've said it very, I've said it very simply. I think it could well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries. I won't be specific, but I think a lot of people interfere." (June 2017)
  • "What I said there, I'm surprised that there's any conflict on this. 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 that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies. I've worked with them very strongly." (November 2017)
  • "Certainly there was meddling. Probably there was meddling from other countries." (March 2018)

And all of those statements are consistent with what Trump said on the campaign trail during the 2016 race -- including most famously/infamously this line during a debate with Clinton: "I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don't know who broke in to DNC."

So when Trump said on Tuesday that "I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our election," he's not totally wrong. He has done that. Then, in the next sentence or the next day or the next week or the next month, he sought to systematically raise questions about the idea that Russia did, in fact, pursue a strategy to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

The conclusion here is as obvious as the nose on your face: Donald Trump has never -- and does not now -- 100% believe that Russia ran an active campaign to meddle in the 2016 election. He will parrot the talking point when he absolutely has to -- like on Tuesday -- but, even then, he feels compelled to add those words ("could be other people also") that reveal his true feelings.

Maya Angelou had it right when she said: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

Trump cannot hold these two competing ideas in his head: 1) That Russia sought to interfere in the election to help him and hurt Clinton and 2) He is still the President whether or not he chooses to acknowledge that first idea. To Trump, admitting Russia led a massive campaign to influence the 2016 election means that he is admitting that he didn't win fair and square or that the results are tainted. He can't see his way around that. He's willing to put aside the unanimous conclusions of his intelligence community (not to mention the Senate Intelligence Committee) and willing to believe the "very strong" assertions by the former KGB agent now running Russia instead.

The consequences of Trump's blindness on this issue are not isolated to his own political standing. They are far-reaching -- as we saw in Finland on Monday. Putin (and Russia) walked away with a massive victory on the geopolitical stage solely because the President of the United States can't understand that regardless of what Russia did in the 2016 election, he's still the President.

Remarkable. And scary.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
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