President Donald J. Trump has walked back a statement he made at the press conference following his Helsinki Summit Meeting with Vladimir Putin. “I said would instead of wouldn’t” is what Trump said happened when asked about if he believed Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election that put him in office. He claims to have misspoken, and he is now making it clear that he wouldn’t have any reason to not believe that Russia meddled in a U.S. election. That clarification should be the end of the story, but it isn’t.
As several political analysts and news outlets have pointed out, if that was the only thing that Trump said during that particular press conference that seemed to absolve Russia of any wrongdoing, or shift blame for them, then it would be plausible to accept that he misspoke. However, as Variety Senior Editor Ted Johnson pointed out, when asked if he held Russia accountable for anything in particular, Trump responded, “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think that we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialog a long time ago…I think we are all to blame.” From Johnson’s viewpoint, Trump refrained from criticizing Putin, or taking the opportunity to say that he blamed Russia for election meddling, which makes it questionable that he misspoke.
How Trump retreats: Grudging apologies, plus a wink and a nod to the original insult https://t.co/TBHOkx0Bp2
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 17, 2018
Fox News also mentioned that at the Helsinki press conference, Trump saying Putin issued a “strong and powerful denial” regarding meddling also doesn’t quite jive when taken as a part of the whole press conference. While it doesn’t mean he couldn’t have misspoken, it also doesn’t give any indication that the remark was out of context versus everything else he said during the press conference.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed her view of Trump’s explanation in a press release shortly after Trump offered his misspeaking explanation.
“President Trump’s attempt to walk back the dangerous, disgraceful and damaging show of his Blame America First policy embarrasses our nation even further. After watching the President cower in front of Putin, the American people now deserve to know what Trump will do now.”
Fox News also pointed out that Trump was urged by his allies to clean up his remarks from the press conference yesterday, as can be seen on the Inquisitr. He could have tweeted clarification at any time. Instead, he claimed he had no idea what everyone was riled up about until he read his transcript, and saw the error he made and had to clarify it. The two stories don’t seem to match, as on one hand he had allies telling him what he did wrong on Monday, and on the other hand he is saying he didn’t know anything was wrong until he read the transcript when he was back in Washington a day later.
“I came back and said ‘What is going on, what’s the big deal?’ I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’… sort of a double negative.”
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 17, 2018
Another inconsistency was pointed out by MarketWatch that Trump was citing his full faith in U.S. intelligence agencies, yet at the same time saying something that is not in agreement with their assessment that Russia undoubtedly meddled in a U.S. election, then offering an alternate possibility to that truth.
“I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.”
Kimberly Halkett of Al Jazeera reported from the White House that Trump was on script, and alluded that he may be going for a bit of misdirection with his prepared statement.
“He was almost was reading this, very much an example of a White House in damage control mode, where the communications team has worked very hard to parse the statement of the president in Helsinki and try to turn it into something other than what many people believe they witnessed – and that was a president standing apart from his intelligence agencies and the conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election,”
In the end, only President Trump knows what he meant to say at that press conference. All the analysts and politicians can speculate as to what he intended to say, but none will ever really know. PBS did, however, point out that under intense pressure after the Charlottesville riots, Trump backtracked as well, which could potentially point to a pattern of behavior after saying something immensely unpopular.