Donald Trump walks back on Russia assertions: New statements stand in stark contrast to older claims
President Donald Trump's Twitter cannon roared over the weekend as the latest turn in the Russia investigation seemingly placed him on the defensive.
Washington: President Donald Trump's Twitter cannon roared over the weekend as the latest turn in the Russia investigation seemingly placed him on the defensive. He denied he had ever absolved Russia of meddling in the 2016 US election, despite his plentiful record of voicing doubts on that question.
Resurrecting an old tale from the campaign, Trump also described a diplomatic transaction between the US and Iran during the Obama years as a dark plot that should have been investigated by US authorities. The transaction actually was money the US owed to Iran from decades ago and one in a series of claims that were addressed by an international tribunal set up by both countries.
Trump's rash of tweets followed an indictment released Friday charging 13 Russians with running a massive social media trolling campaign and field operations in the US aimed in part at helping him defeat his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller provided the most concrete evidence yet of Russian attempts to subvert the election.
Here's look at some of Trump's broadsides and how they stack up with the facts:
TRUMP: "I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said 'it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.' The Russian 'hoax' was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia - it never did!"
THE FACTS: On multiple occasions Trump has challenged the veracity of the mounting evidence about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. On Air Force One, during foreign travels in November, he was asked about a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin: "How did you bring up the issue of election meddling? Did you ask him a question?"
Trump replied: "He just — every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, 'I didn't do that.' I think he's very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth."
And in September, he tweeted: "The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook," referring to the discovery that Russian entities had posted ads on Facebook critical of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and supportive of him.
Mostly, he has equivocated on the question of Russian interference, speaking at times as if he believes it happened and other times as if he does not, even as lawmakers, intelligence officials and some of his own aides say there is no doubt Russia meddled. He's been consistent only in denying that his team colluded with Russia.
TRUMP: "Never gotten over the fact that Obama was able to send $1.7 Billion Dollars in CASH to Iran and nobody in Congress, the FBI or Justice called for an investigation!"
THE FACTS: It's not clear what there could be to investigate. In the late 1970s the Iranian government, under the US-backed shah, paid the US $400 million for military equipment. The equipment was never delivered because in 1979, his government was overthrown and diplomatic relations between the US and Iran ruptured. In 1981, both countries agreed on a commission at The Hague to rule on claims by each country for property and assets held by the other. Iran paid more than $2.5 billion to US businesses and citizens to resolve claims.
In January 2016, the US agreed to settle an Iranian claim, paying the $400 million and committing to follow up and pay $1.3 billion in interest, for a total of $1.7 billion. US officials said they settled because they expected the tribunal to rule on the claim soon and assess higher interest. The Obama administration delivered the initial payment the same day Tehran agreed to release four American prisoners, and later acknowledged the cash was used as leverage until the Americans were allowed to leave.
TRUMP: "General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems.
THE FACTS: HR McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, would have had no basis to say Russia failed to impact the US election because that is an open question.
McMaster said in remarks the previous evening that the indictment provides "really incontrovertible" evidence of Russian malfeasance in the election. The indictment does not allege collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and does not assert that Russia's deeds tipped the election in Trump's favour. But Mueller's investigation continues and nothing is ruled out.
Trump tweeted Friday about his conviction that Russia had no impact and Vice-President Mike Pence said in an Axios interview days earlier that "it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election."
US intelligence agencies, however, have reached no such conclusion.
This much is thought to be true: Russia is not known to have succeeded in manipulating voting systems or ballots. Officials said as much months ago. But since then, much more has been discovered about the Russian assault on Facebook, Twitter and Google as propagandists pushed fake or negative news to readers to deepen public discord and influence opinions on whom to vote for. Now the Mueller indictment adds voluminous detail to that understanding.
The extent to which such efforts may have motivated people to vote for Trump may be impossible to measure.
But Pence's apparent equanimity on the subject was not shared by Trump's director of national intelligence in testimony to senators Tuesday. "There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful," Dan Coats said in warning that Moscow was already meddling in the 2018 midterms. Coats said Russians "upped their game" in the 2016 election, "took advantage, a sophisticated advantage, of social media" and interfered in "pervasive" fashion — a conclusion underscored by the criminal charges brought Friday.
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