President Donald Trump had seen highly classified evidence before his inauguration that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election,” The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Trump sounded “grudgingly convinced” when he was shown the findings of Putin’s interference on Jan. 6 of last year — just two weeks before his inauguration, according to the report, which cited multiple people who attended the briefing.
The meeting took place at Trump Tower and the then-president-elect was shown evidence that included texts and emails from Russian military officers, according to the Times. There was also information gathered from a top-secret source close to Putin, which outlined the Kremlin’s plan to sway the 2016 election, the report said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the New York Times story.
But, as seen at Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki this week, Trump has veered away from that evidence and even cast doubts on the work of the U.S. intelligence community.
The new Times report came after Trump was criticized by many, including Republican lawmakers, for apparently siding with Moscow at a joint press conference with Putin on Monday.
The American president claimed his Russian counterpart was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial” of any election meddling — even though Trump said he has “great confidence” in the U.S. intelligence community. He subsequently said he had misspoken a single word, and that he actually accepts the intelligence findings that Russia meddled in the U.S. political race.
That did not address Trump's multiple comments that suggested he sided with Putin over the American intelligence community. The president did not reverse statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin's denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies' conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.
Just one day after back-tracking, Trump took to Twitter to defend his performance in Helsinki.
In an interview with CBS News that aired Wednesday, Trump indicated he considered Putin responsible for election interference in 2016, although he left some wiggle room.
"Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes," Trump said.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.