WARSAW, Poland – On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump questioned the veracity of American intelligence about foreign meddling in the U.S. election, arguing Thursday that Russia wasn’t the only country that may have interfered.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
Opening his second overseas trip as president, Trump also warned North Korea that he’s considering “some pretty severe things” in response to the isolated nation’s unprecedented launch of a missile capable of reaching the U.S. Though he declined to offer specifics on the U.S. response, he called on all nations to confront the North’s “very, very bad behaviour.”
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As U.S. investigations into Russia’s meddling move ahead, Trump is under intense scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the unpredictable Russia leader ordered interference in the election that brought Trump to the White House.
Trump and Putin plan to sit down on Friday in Hamburg, Germany, on the sidelines of an international summit.
Loathe to cast a shadow on his election victory, Trump has avoided firmly blaming Moscow for campaign hacking in the past, and on Thursday, he was similarly elusive. He argued variably that it could have been Russia, probably was Russia and indeed was Russia, while insisting it could have been other countries, too, and adding: “I won’t be specific.”
“A lot of people interfere. It’s been happening for a long time,” Trump said in Poland. He did not specifically say whether he planned to discuss the issue with Putin.
The president sought to redirect any scrutiny toward his predecessor, Barack Obama, accusing him of allowing Moscow to meddle on his watch. Though the Obama administration warned Russia publicly and privately before Election Day to stop interfering, questions have since been raised about whether he acted aggressively enough to stop the threat.
“They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.”’
Trump said the CIA had informed Obama about the hacking months before the election but added that “mistakes have been made.” Though Trump has made similar statements before, it was an extraordinary public expression of doubt about U.S. intelligence capabilities by a president while standing on foreign soil.