Trump: Russian election meddling took place, but it 'could be other people' as well 

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday responded to scathing criticism from across the political spectrum of his performance at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.
  • The president said he accepted the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but added that "other people" could have done so, as well. 
  • Trump also said he misspoke when he said that he could see no reason why Russia would have interfered in the presidential election. 
Trump: We will have peace through strength

President Donald Trump on Tuesday responded to scathing criticism from across the political spectrum of his performance at a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said, before adding: "Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. But there was no collusion."

The president also claimed Russia's actions didn't have an impact on election results. Nonetheless, he said, his administration is committed to securing the nation's election systems, and "will stop it and repel it [if there are] any efforts to interfere in our election."

Trump's press conference Monday with Putin stunned the world, not least because the president appeared to endorse Putin's denial of Russian election meddling over the conclusions reached by Trump's own intelligence agencies that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

"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," Trump said Monday. "I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

On Tuesday, however, Trump said he misspoke in Helsinki, and that he had, in fact, meant to say he didn't see "any reason why it wouldn't be Russia," thereby tilting the scales in favor of the assessment reached by his own intelligence agencies, and not the denial issued by Putin.

The president further sought to contain the damage from his apparent split with his own intelligence agencies by repeatedly praising them Tuesday.

"I have a faith, full faith, in our intelligence agencies. I have full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies, always have," Trump said during remarks at the start of a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House.

Trump was not 'strong' with Putin, says political expert

Trump's split with American intelligence agencies, however, was not the only thing that stood out about Trump's joint press conference with Putin.

Allies and opponents alike noted that Trump did not hold Putin publicly accountable for Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, its backing of the Assad regime in Syria, its use of a nerve agent to poison a Kremlin political opponent on British soil or its destabilizing activities across Europe.

Reactions to his press conference were instantaneous and almost universally negative. The conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board called Trump's joint press conference "a personal and national embarrassment."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

"No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," McCain said.

Former CIA director John Brennan said in a tweet that the press conference was "nothing short of treasonous."

Even some of the president most ardent supporters, like radio host Laura Ingraham, refused to endorse his performance. "The president seems to give credence to Vladimir Putin’s assurances over the Senate, the House, and our intel agencies, Dan Coats, and that’s not good," Ingraham said on her syndicated radio program Monday. "And I think he let the frustration of this investigation get the better of him," she said.

Indeed, Trump used the press conference to essentially let Russia off the hook, saying he held "both countries responsible" for the fact that Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine and elsewhere have damaged the bilateral relationship. The president also railed against special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in 2016, and repeated false conspiracy theories about his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.