In a series of tweets early Sunday morning, U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated—or at least again suggested—his long-running skepticism of claims that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The tweets followed conflicting accounts of a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit.
Trump’s stance is effectively a broad dismissal of findings by both journalists and the U.S. intelligence community pointing to direct Russian government involvement in a series of hacks on political parties and election infrastructure—findings that have led to an investigation of Trump’s own Russia ties.
As recently as June 22, Trump called the Russia investigations a “hoax” and an “excuse for [Democrats] losing the election.” In the past, he has speculated that election-related hacking could have come from China or unspecified overweight hackers.
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Trump met with Putin for more than two hours on Friday in Hamburg, Germany, and according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson he “pressed” Putin on the election question repeatedly. But both Russian envoy Sergey Lavrov and Putin himself have said Trump seemed to accept or agree with the Russian President’s denial of any involvement. Now Trump seems to have substantially affirmed those Russian claims.
Trump’s tweets, however, came just before his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told Fox News Sunday that Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin . . . he said they probably meddled in the election.” This continues a string of communication disconnects between Trump and his staff.
Regardless of what Trump believes, he and his staff have made clear that the election issue will not be the focus of further talks with Russia. Instead, the two countries will work to resolve the Syrian civil war—and establish a joint cybersecurity task force to prevent election hacking.