Backflip: Trump stuns with absurd excuse
DONALD Trump has executed an astonishing backflip after his deeply criticised show of support for Vladimir Putin at their summit in Finland yesterday.
The US President now says he "accepts" the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the US presidential election - despite saying the opposite in Helsinki.
"I have full faith in our intelligence agencies," he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. "I accept our intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there."
Trump said he meant to say "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia," instead of "would" during the controversial Helsinki summit pic.twitter.com/R74brNEVR2— POLITICO (@politico) 17 July 2018
He did, however, maintain that there was "no collusion" between his campaign team and the Russians.
The remarkable U-turn came after senior figures from both sides of politics lined up to attack Mr Trump for capitulating to Mr Putin in Finland's capital.
In a bizarre explanation for his contradictory statements, Mr Trump said he had seen a transcript of his comments from the summit and had misspoken.
"In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'," he explained.
He said the sentence should have been, "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia," rather than, "I don't see any reason why it would be Russia."
Mr Trump said it was "sort of a double negative," adding, "I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself."
He said Russians had on several occasions had tried to interfere in US elections. "Unlike previous administrations, my administration has and will continue to move aggressively to [repel] any efforts to interfere in our election," he said.
At the very moment he delivered this stunning about-face, saying he had "full faith in US intelligence agencies", the lights briefly went out at the White House, plunging the President into darkness.
"Whoops, they just turned off the lights, that must be the intelligence agencies," he joked. "That was strange."
Mr Trump's change of heart came after Barack Obama delivered an excoriating attack on his successor and senior Republicans blasted Mr Trump's performance in Finland as weak and even treasonous.
At the summit in Helsinki, Mr Trump appeared to unquestioningly accept the Russian president's "strong and powerful" denials of meddling in the election.
Mr Putin asserted his country had "never interfered, and does not plan to interfere in internal American electoral process".
Mr Trump said: "All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia.
"I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia, I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be."
Mr Obama on Tuesday morning condemned the "politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment" in a stinging rebuke to Mr Trump, as his weak performance sent shockwaves around the world.
"Each day's news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines," said Mr Obama, calling these "strange and uncertain times we are in."
He hit out at "strongman politics", lamenting that "those in power seek to undermine every institution ... that gives democracy meaning."
Mr Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other threatened values in his most high-profile speech since leaving office, at the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth in South Africa.
"We see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal, way of doing business," he said.
He did not directly mention Mr Trump, but his comments were clearly a response to the President's heavily criticised performance in Helsinki.
"I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts," added Mr Obama. "Look around."
He also spoke for equality, saying that "I would have thought we had figured that out by now."
Around 14,000 people gathered at a Johannesburg cricket stadium for Mr Obama's speech, which honoured the causes Mr Mandela championed - diversity, democracy and equal rights for all.
"Just by standing on the stage honouring Nelson Mandela, Obama is delivering an eloquent rebuke to Trump," said John Stremlau, professor of international relations at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.
It came as the fallout grew over what was dubbed Mr Trump's "surrender summit" and "treason summit".
Mr Trump also appeared to blame the US, rather than Russia, for the strained relations between the two nations.
As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 16 July 2018
He notably failed to challenge Mr Putin on Russia's annexation of Crimea, its interference in eastern Ukraine or the poisoning of Russian exiles in London.
Mr Coats, who last week said the Russians were preparing to meddle again, said in a statement released after the summit: "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."
Former CIA chief of staff Larry Pfeiffer said Mr Coats should resign in protest. "History shows well-timed and principled resignations help illuminate and focus on problems," he said.
Ex-CIA director John Brennan told MSNBC "there very well might be" a move towards intelligence agents withholding information from Mr Trump after his submission to Russia, to "protect the capabilities" of the community.
His obsequious behaviour in Finland has seen shockwaves ripple across the US and the world, with even senior Republicans condemning his comments.
Mr Trump afterwards attempted to smooth things over, tweeting that he has "GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people" and that "Fake News is going Crazy!"
But it may be too late.
John McCain was the most denunciatory GOP politician, calling the President's behaviour "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," and adding, "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."
Former House Speaker and Trump supporter Newt Gingrich called the president's handling of the day "the most serious mistake of his presidency."
House Speaker and cautious Trump supporter Paul Ryan offered more measured criticism. "There is no question that Russia interfered in our election," he said. "The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally."
Republican Trey Gowdy said "Russia is not our friend" and expressed hope Mr Trump's aides could convince him that "it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimising his electoral success."
This is central to the problem.
Mr Trump does not want to acknowledge any sort of interference that could undermine the legitimacy of his election win over Hillary Clinton.
He also wants Russia's help in denuclearising North Korea and reducing Iran's presence in Syria.
GOP congressional operative Doug Heye told the Wall Street Journal he had noted that personal criticism of Mr Trump tended to backfire in electoral losses - but that it was easier to push back in "substantive terms."
Congress may now seize the opportunity to take action and insist Mr Trump takes a tougher position on Russian, or at least maintains economic sanctions against the nation.
On the back foot, the President may have no choice but to keep on giving in.
While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 17 July 2018