President Donald Trump says he accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in his favor, but that Russian actions did not have any impact on the outcome of the vote, and that "other people also" could have interfered.
Trump's remarks on July 17 came amid a wave of criticism from allies and critics over his performance a day earlier at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- with many saying his embrace of Putin while belittling U.S. intelligence agencies and allies betrayed what the United States stands for.
"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said. However, he added: "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there."
He also backtracked on his remarks in Helsinki that he saw no reason to think that Russia had meddled, saying that he misspoke in Helsinki.
"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason...why it wouldn't be Russia'" that interfered, instead of "why it would" be Russia, Trump said.
He said that he has full faith in and support for U.S. intelligence agencies , and that his administration will move aggressively to repel any effort to interfere in the November 2018 elections for U.S. legislative posts.
Trump's comments came just minutes after the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, warned Russia not to interfere in this year's elections and said it was possible the Senate could take up legislation on additional sanctions against Russia.
McConnell also said NATO was the United States' "most significant military alliance in history," adding that "the European countries are our friends and the Russians are not."
Democrats in Congress dismissed Trump's latest statement acknowledging Russia interfered in the election as political damage control.
"This has to be recognized for what it is, which is simply an effort to clean up the mess he made yesterday, which is beyond the capacity of any short statement to repair," said Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
Earlier on July 17, Trump appeared determined in the face of criticism and broad condemnation -- declaring on Twitter that his meeting in Helsinki with Putin went "even better" than his meeting with NATO allies last week in Brussels.
Standing beside Putin on July 16, Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' findings that Russia had meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, and appeared to accept Putin's denial of any Russian meddling.
A week earlier, at the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump launched a barrage of criticism and insults against U.S. allies.
Trump's claim that he "misspoke" at his summit with Putin came after heavy criticism of his performance in Brussels and Helsinki from key members of his own Republican Party, as well as Democrats, members of the U.S. intelligence community, and journalists.
Trump's renewed questioning of U.S. intelligence -- at the same time he insisted that he has "great confidence" in it -- came even as the U.S. Justice Department announced yet another indictment targeting an alleged Russian operative -- this time, a woman in Washington who allegedly cultivated ties with Trump and his fellow conservatives as a covert agent for the Kremlin.