'I actually meant the opposite of what I said': Trump backpedals on Russian interference statement
President Donald Trump has sensationally backflipped on his comments about Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, saying he meant the opposite of what he said in Helsinki.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, the president wanted to "clarify" that he misspoke in his press conference with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Mr Trump has come under blistering bipartisan criticism for his comments after the summit with Mr Putin in Finland early yesterday morning.
"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why I wouldn't, or why it wouldn't be Russia" instead of "why it would," Mr Trump said.
But he added: "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all."
Mr Trump also said he accepted the American intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election, but he denied that his campaign had colluded in the effort.
Moments earlier, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a public reassurance to US allies in NATO and Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied Europe trip last week.
"The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not," Mr McConnell said.
Mr Trump maintained yesterday's summit with Mr Putin went "even better" than his meeting with NATO allies.
The reaction to the president's comments were immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans as well as usual Trump critics. "Shameful," ''disgraceful," ''weak," were a few of the comments. Makes the US "look like a pushover," said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia but showed no signs of acting any time soon.
"Let's be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections," said House Speaker Paul Ryan. "What we intend to do is make sure they don't get away with it again and also to help our allies."
In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Mr Trump's two-hour private session with Putin.
In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi planned a vote in support of the intelligence committee's findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important US competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.
His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was a stark illustration of Mr Trump's willingness to upend decades of US foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns.
A wary and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party's world view. But Mr Trump made clear he feels that any acknowledgement of Russia's election involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.
Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
"He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Mr Trump said yesterday.
Fellow Republican politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned home from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.
Senator John McCain was most outspoken, declaring that Mr Trump made a "conscious choice to defend a tyrant" and achieved "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul emerged as one of the president's few defenders from his own party. He defended Trump's skepticism to CBS News citing the president's experience on the receiving end of "partisan investigations."
Back at the White House, Mr Paul's comments drew a presidential tweet of gratitude. "Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!" Mr Trump tweeted.
In all, Trump's remarks amounted to an unprecedented embrace of a man who for years has been isolated by the US and Western allies for actions in Ukraine, Syria and beyond.
And it came at the end of an extraordinary trip to Europe in which Mr Trump had already berated allies, questioned the value of the NATO alliance and demeaned leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Theresa May.
In Helsinki, Mr Putin said he had indeed wanted Mr Trump to win the election — a revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump's performance — but had taken no action to make it happen.
"Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-US ties," Mr Putin said. "Isn't it natural to feel sympathy to a person who wanted to develop relations with our country? It's normal."