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Trump on his 'impenetrable' cybersecurity unit with Putin: I didn't mean it

  • U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted late Sunday that he didn't think his plan to create a cybersecurity unit with Russia would happen.
  • That followed criticism of the cybersecurity plan as a "fox in charge of the henhouse" scenario.

After a weekend of criticism of President Donald Trump's tweeted plan to create a cybersecurity unit in cooperation with Russia, the president posted on Twitter late Sunday U.S. time that he actually didn't think it would happen.

Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time on Friday at the G-20 Summit in Germany.

The U.S. president claimed that he had discussed allegations that Russia interfered with the U.S. election last year, including through hacking.

But then Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Trump accepted Putin's assurance that Russia didn't interfere. The White House later disputed that to NBC News.

After the meeting, Trump sent a tweet saying he would work with Russia to create an "impenetrable" cybersecurity unit to keep "election hacking, & many other negative things" protected.

That comment, coming as pundits began referring to the G-20 Summit as the "G-19 plus one" to signal how isolated the U.S. and Trump appeared, was met with "putting the fox in charge of the henhouse" derision — referencing repeated findings by U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies that Russia was involved in wide-scale hacking campaigns.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican representing South Carolina, mocked his president's proposed cybersecurity partnership in a weekend interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

"It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close," Graham said.

Administration figures had earlier defended the cybersecurity plan.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on ABC Sunday talk show "This Week" that the plan was "a very significant accomplishment for President Trump."

"This is a very important step forward. What we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we're focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cybersecurity [sic]," Mnuchin said. "This is like any other strategic alliance, whether we're doing military exercises with our allies or anything else."

Trump's backtrack on his cybersecurity alliance with Russia came after The New York Times reported Sunday that his son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a lawyer who had access to the Kremlin in 2016 because she may have promised information potentially damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign.

The report cited three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting also included Trump son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, and the then-chairman of Trump's campaign, Paul J. Manafort, the report said.

The New York Times reported that when first asked on Saturday, Trump's son said the meeting was primarily about adoptions, with nothing about Clinton mentioned.

But on Sunday, Trump's son issued a statement saying that the "claims of potentially helpful information" on the Clinton campaign were "a pretext" to set up a meeting on adoption of Russian children and a U.S. law blacklisting Russians suspected of human rights abuses.

Manafort resigned from the campaign after news his firm had lobbied covertly for Ukraine's ruling political party. Acting for a foreign government or political party requires disclosure to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The White House didn't immediately return CNBC's emailed request for comment, sent outside of office hours, on the reversal of the cybersecurity proposal or the New York Times report.

Representatives for Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., didn't immediately return CNBC's emailed requests for comment, which were sent outside of office hours.

A representative of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election, declined to comment on the New York Times report.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the source of the information on the discussion between Trump and Putin.