WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump said on Twitter today that “many people at the higher ends of intelligence” loved his performance during Monday’s joint news conference in Helsinki with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. But it was not immediately clear which people Trump was referring to — very smart, intelligent people or senior officials in the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Trump’s own director of intelligence, Dan Coats — the most senior intelligence official in the Trump administration — pushed back against Trump’s remarks during Monday’s news conference and clearly stated, again, that the U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election.
Less than a day after Trump attempted to clarify his position on Russia and election meddling — stating specifically that he does not see why Russia would not be behind it — the president today praised the outcome of the summit with Putin in a series of morning Twitter posts and promised, “Big results will come!”
“While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success, ” he said in one post. “Many positive things will come out of that meeting..”
“….Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along. There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!” he wrote in a follow-up post.
Trump also denounced his critics.
“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia, ” he wrote. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”
The details of his two-hour meeting alone with Putin have yet to be disclosed, even as Russia’s defense ministry announced that it was ready to put in motion the unspecified agreements that Trump and Putin reached. Critics continue to raise concerns about the lack of details about what was said in the meeting, particularly in light of the deferential stance Trump appeared to take during a joint news conference with Putin on Monday.
“The Russian Defense Ministry is ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump,” according to a statement from the Russian ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, which was posted on the Russian Embassy’s Facebook page.
Trump returned to the White House on Monday after his summit with Putin and was confronted with criticism from Republicans in Congress, his own aides and his allies on Fox News.
Reading from written remarks Tuesday, Trump assured Americans that he did believe that Russia was behind the 2016 election interference and that he accepted the conclusions of his most senior intelligence officials. He blamed the misunderstanding on a failed attempt to use a double negative.
Without further clarification, it may be difficult to decode the meaning of “people at the higher ends of intelligence.”
If Trump meant members of his own intelligence community, it would raise the question of who — as the president’s own director of national intelligence issued a rare public statement, pushing back against Trump’s assertions in Helsinki.
If Trump meant very smart, intelligent people, that would emphasize his preamble Tuesday leading into his explanation of his grammar mishap, which included subtle jabs at his critics: “It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t.”
In an interview after the news conference Monday with Fox News host Sean Hannity — one of few members of the news media whom the president has said he respects — Trump was cheery. In the interview, Trump described the meeting with Putin as productive and the necessary opening for a new era of cooperation with Russia. But as the president flew back to Washington on Air Force One, his good mood began to dissipate as he saw the negative reactions about what he viewed as a very positive summit.
White House aides Tuesday encouraged him to clarify what he meant, even as he has previously waffled on his confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies, including on conclusions about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
“I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself,” Trump said on Tuesday after he said he misspoke.
Some Republicans who typically defend Trump on television were silent Tuesday. Michael Anton, the former communications director for the National Security Council, called off a long-planned appearance on CNN because he could not “defend” how Trump had conducted himself with Putin, according to the host, Erin Burnett.
But Vice President Mike Pence and Pence’s former spokesman, Marc Lotter, publicly praised the president’s performance.
“President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first,” Pence said Monday during a speech at the Commerce Department after the Helsinki news conference.
During an interview Tuesday with CNN, Lotter encouraged people to stop focusing on “what happened two years ago” and instead focus on the long-term benefits of a good relationship with Russia.