During an appearance on today’s edition of Fox News Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said President Donald J. Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Vladimir Putin” about meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
Priebus’ strong assertion came after host Chris Wallace asked about Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying that after Putin denied meddling in election, Trump, this is his quote, said that he had accepts these assertions.
Here is the exchange from the transcript provided Fox News Sunday:
WALLACE: OK, I want to clear up, speaking of foreign policy meetings, what really happened in the Putin-Trump summit in Hamburg on Friday. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says that after Putin denied meddling in election, he, Trump, this is his quote, said that he had accepts these assertions, and that President Trump said, this is Lavrov quoting Trump, certain circles in the U.S. are still exaggerating, although they cannot prove this, the topic of Russia’s interference with the election.
Reince, is that true? Did the president say what Lavrov says he said?
PRIEBUS: No, it’s not true. The president absolutely did not believe the denial of president Putin [emphasis provided]. What he did his he immediately came into the meeting, talked about Russian meddling in the U.S. election, went after that issue at least two separate times.
This was not just a five-minute piece of the conversation. This was an extensive portion of the meeting and after going at it with President Putin more than once, two times, maybe even three times, the president at that point, after spending a large part of the meeting on the subject, moved on to other topics.
WALLACE: So, to be clear —
WALLACE: And we’re going to get to that. He does not accept Putin’s denial. He believes the Russians meddled?
PRIEBUS: He’s answered this question many times. He said they probably meddled in the election. They did meddle in the election. The one thing that he also says, which drives the media crazy, but it’s an absolute fact, is that others have as well, and that’s true. China has, North Korea has and they have consistently over many, many years.
So, yes, he believes that Russia probably committed all of these acts that we’ve been told of, but he also believes that other countries also participated in this.
Earlier Sunday, Trump tweeted, “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion. . . .
And he tweeted, We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
Trump also said when asked whether Russia hacked the U.S. election at a news conference in Warsaw, the meddling “could be Russia,” but “a lot of people interfere” and other countries may have been involved. Trump also reminded us that the intelligence services routinely get things wrong — citing the intelligence community’s erroneous finding that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
During an interview on today’s edition of ABC’s “This Week,”Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would not say whether Trump takes Putin’s word in denying he attempted to influence the election results:
STEPHANOPOULOS: He’s just not answering that question.
MNUCHIN: I got it, which why should he answer that question directly? He’s made it very clear how he feels. He’s made it very clear that he addressed it straight on. And there was significant substance.
This is a very important, important for us to have discussions on substantive issues. And I think the president handled it brilliantly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say he’s made it very clear how he feels. But we all saw that press conference earlier in the week in Hamburg where the president said about three different things on whether or not Russia meddled. He said I think it was Russia. I think others did it. No one knows for sure.
What is the president’s position on whether or not Russia interfered in the election? Does he accept the conclusions of the intelligence community?
MNUCHIN: I think it was very clear what he said. He said those three things and that’s what he believes.
But Mnuchin’s most significant words came after Stephanopoulos asked him does President Trump agree with President Putin that he accepts President Putin’s denials? Mnuchin replied, everybody is focused on that. And what they should be focused on is what was discussed in the substance. Why would President Trump broadcast exactly what he said in the meeting? Strategically, that makes no sense.