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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: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108736

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287201467
Cuyahoga1157922211
Hamilton813971250
Montgomery525481043
Summit484271001
Lucas43353820
Butler39013606
Stark33332929
Lorain25672505
Warren24591303
Mahoning22370603
Lake21207388
Clermont20117253
Delaware18852136
Licking16662222
Fairfield16574204
Trumbull16548482
Medina15610271
Greene15281248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11913239
Richland11605211
Miami10849225
Wayne9141223
Columbiana9032230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8663122
Tuscarawas8649250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7160179
Hancock6998132
Ross6944161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584549
Lawrence5731102
Jefferson5678158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5348128
Washington5319109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4571112
Madison444266
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432074
Crawford4037110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3855105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359665
Williams348278
Champaign344759
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275265
Henry273467
Holmes2701101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240650
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85517
Unassigned03
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