On November 11, 2017, President Trump met privately with Russian Vladimir Putin at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam. During a press ‘gaggle’ on Air Force One following the meeting, Trump told reporters that during this meeting, he asked Putin whether Russia had meddled in the US election. Putin respond that “he didn’t meddle… 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… I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.” Trump further stated, “then you hear it’s 17 agencies. Well, it’s three. And one is Brennan, and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break, they’re political hacks.” And in comparison, “So you look at that, and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.” Trump further claimed that “that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.”
In this press ‘gaggle,’ then, Trump directly compared Putin’s strong denial that Russia had meddled in the election, with the conclusions that Russia had done so, by the CIA, FBI, NSA, and Office of the DNI. Trump explicitly said that the conclusions from US intelligence should be dismissed. While some commentators have stated otherwise, when viewed in its full context, Trump’s statement was clear, that he believes Putin that Russia did not meddle in the US election process, because the Democrats made up the whole thing. In fact, during this ‘gaggle,’ a reporter directly asked Trump whether he believed Putin’s claim, and Trump didn’t say no, but instead only replied, “Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him.”
In his statements, Trump appears to have come to his conclusion solely based on his personal perception of people’s credibility. He said Putin’s denial was more convincing than the claims made by the former leaders of three US intelligence agencies. It doesn’t appear Trump has even considered the evidence US intelligence agencies have certainly shown to him, which underlie the conclusions of those agencies’ former leaders.
In addition, he dismissed the former intelligence officials’ statements because he thinks they’re “political hacks.” Yet Trump appointed his own “political hack,” Mike Pompeo, as Director of the CIA, and even Pompeo agrees with the conclusions from US intelligence.
The next day, Trump contradicted himself, saying, “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership… I believe in our agencies. I’ve worked with them very strongly.”
Even assuming this were true, it doesn’t really help Trump’s case. If Trump believes Russia interfered with the US election, then it appears that during the Air Force One press ‘gaggle, ‘ he was claiming that Putin honestly, but incorrectly thinks Russia didn’t interfere. Therefore, according to Trump, the US should stop the investigation and just drop the issue because Putin is insulted by the whole thing, and that’s bad for the country. This would appear to imply that Trump believes there should be no consequences for a foreign country interfering with US elections.