President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media as he meets with members of Congress in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 17, 2018, in Washington. Trump says he meant the opposite when he said in Helsinki that he doesn’t see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 

Just a short while ago, President Trump began to walk back his comments in Helsinki. There, he seemed to discount the assessment of the US Intelligence Community that the Russians had mucked about in the 2016 election and appeared to embrace some undisclosed and presumably cockamamie alternative explanation from Vladimir Putin. In a meeting with a small number of Members of Congress, President Trump read from prepared remarks:

President Trump said Tuesday that he misspoke when he seemed to dismiss allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, stating clearly that he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions as he sought to quell a bipartisan firestorm over his press conference with Vladimir Putin.

But Trump suggested Tuesday he was surprised by the negative reaction when he returned to Washington.

“I came back and said ‘What is going on, what’s the big deal?’” Trump said, adding that he reviewed the transcript and “realized that there is a need for some clarification.”

But Trump sought to make clear Tuesday that he stands behind the intelligence community.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” he said, adding: “It could be other people also.”

I think this action reflects Trump realizing just how damaging to his own cause his comments were. I can’t imagine he likes it. In fact, I imagine he a lot less than likes it. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more senior officials–like Dan Coats who was obviously a very unhappy man yesterday–were threatening to resign over the issue and the prospect of “treason” being mixed with “mutiny” and “disarray” for the Sunday shows gave him a wake-up call.

The real test is whether he can do what a lot of people think needs to be done: accept the findings that Russia was meddling in the 2016 election and continue to vigorously resist the whole collusion narrative including actively resisting any efforts by Robert Mueller to force cooperation from him. Many senior folks are saying that and I hope he listens.

“[The investigation] has shown there was absolutely no collusion with the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence activity leading up to the election,” Cornyn said. “That’s what I think has got the president so spun up, is because he feels this is an attack on him personally.”

He added: “I wish we could separate those two. But indeed our Democratic colleagues don’t want to separate those because they realize that this is the best way to keep this story going for as long as they can, through the next election, and who knows, through the presidential election as well.”

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