President Donald Trump took to Twitter on the morning of Sunday, July 9, to share what was discussed in his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit. Trump has also managed to contradict a lot of what his staff has said about the meeting in the process.
Instead of holding an end of summit briefing, Trump used his Twitter account early Sunday morning, after returning to the U.S., to detail the conversation. "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election," Trump wrote. "He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion."
As NPR reported, during his visit to Poland right before the G20, Trump seemed to downplay the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies which say there is evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. "Well, I think it was Russia," Trump said. "And I think it could have been other people in other countries. Could have been a lot of people interfered," adding, "Nobody really knows for sure."
That contradicted what Nikki Haley, the Trump administration's ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN's State Of The Union just a day earlier. "Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections. Everybody knows that they’re not just meddling in the United States’ election,” she said. "They’re doing this across multiple continents, and they’re doing this in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries."
Trump also tweeted that "sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!," which seemed to contradict statements made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
After the Putin meeting, Tillerson, who was in the room, told the Washington Post along with others that the two did talk about sanctions and that Trump made sure to "take note" of the additional sanctions Congress would like to impose on Russia. “But the two presidents, I think, rightly focused on: How do we move forward?” Tillerson said.
During this morning's tweetstorm, Trump talked about the future when it comes to Russia. "We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives," he wrote. "Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!"
Trump offered one specific from he and the Russian president came up with during their conversation, writing, "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe."
NPR wondered if this was Trump once again confirming his skepticism surrounding the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies. On Friday, Tillerson told reporters that the State Department would explore "the cyber issue and this issue of non-interference."
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on Fox News Sunday to deny that Trump didn't believe his own country's intelligence and the idea that he believed Putin when he said Russian didn't meddle in the election. (After Trump and Putin's meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, “The U.S. president said that he heard clear statements from President Putin about this being untrue and that he accepted these statements.")
“It's not true,” Priebus said. “The president absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.” Later in the interview, Priebus, who didn't attend the meeting between Trump and Putin, sounded less convinced about whether the president believed Russia meddled in the election. “Yes, he believes that Russia probably committed all of these acts that we've been told of," Priebus said. "But he also believes that other countries also participated in this activity.”
After the meeting, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the Senate minority leader called Trump's meeting with Putin "disgraceful." In a statement, Schumer said, “President Trump had an obligation to bring up Russia’s interference in our election with Putin, but he has an equal obligation to take the word of our Intelligence Community rather than that of the Russian President."
Republicans also publicly questioned Trump's tactic to work closely with the Russians on cyber security issues. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, "Partnering with Putin on a 'Cyber Security Unit' is akin to partnering with Assad on a 'Chemical Weapons Unit.'"
On CBS' Face The Nation, Senator John McCain questioned why Russia had not yet been punished for its role in the election. “We know that Russia tried to change the outcome of our election last November, and they did not succeed, but there was really sophisticated attempts to do so,” McCain said. “So far, they have not paid a single price for that.”
While Senator Lindsay Graham told Meet The Press that Trump's cyber security unit with Russia's "not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close." During the interview, Graham also said, “When it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot. To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber attacks is to empower Putin, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Trump's pledge to work with Putin comes a day after The Washington Post reported that it was Russian government hackers who were behind "cyber-intrusions" into the business systems of U.S. nuclear power and other energy companies, according to U.S. government officials.