Former President George W. Bush has said that there was “pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled” in the 2016 presidential election on Thursday, appearing at an economic summit in the Middle East.
“There’s pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled. Whether they affected the outcome is another question,” Bush said at the conference, held in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. “It’s problematic that a foreign nation is involved in our election system. Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results.”
Bush’s comments publicly and directly run contrary to those of fellow Republican and President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly disputed claims that the Kremlin interfered in the election to his advantage and that members of his campaign team colluded with Russian agents.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia had in fact waged a campaign to influence the election in a way that would specifically harm Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the so-called “influence campaigns.”
Multiple congressional committees are currently investigating the intelligence community’s assessment, as is the Department of Justice in a probe led by Special Counsel Robert Muller. Investigators are examining the scope of Russian interference in the election and financial ties of some Trump campaign associates.
Bush then went on to criticize Putin as a “zero-sum” world leader with a “chip on his shoulder… because the demise of the Soviet Union troubles him. Therefore, much of his moves [are] to regain Soviet hegemony… That’s why NATO is very important.”
“He can’t think, ‘How can we both win?’ He only thinks, ‘How do I win, you lose?’” Bush continued. “Putin is a brilliant tactician who has the capacity to detect weakness and exploit it.”
The White House has yet to comment on the former president’s remarks, but this is not the first time Bush has spoken out on Russia. In a 2017 public appearance, he asserted that “the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other.”
Trump and Putin have one of the most closely observed diplomatic relationships in the world. Trump’s exchanges with the Russian president are seen to reflect a long-term stated desire to improve relations between the two countries, even in face of his intelligence agencies’ analysis and ongoing federal investigations.
Speaking at odds with Trump on another heated political issue, Bush said that the U.S. should “thank” and “welcome” immigrants who do the “jobs that Americans won’t do”—although acknowledged that the immigration system is “broken.”
“It is important for our economy and also important for our soul that the immigration system functions well,” he said.
The Republican also spoke out in defense of young people brought into the U.S. by their parents and who now face deportation after Trump abruptly ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
“America’s their home,” he said of the 800,000 young people affected, often referred to as the Dreamers. “They’ve got to get it fixed.”
The 43rd president then commented on Mexico, along whose border Trump wishes to build his now infamous wall.
”I view it as a relationship vital for our economy and for our stability. We’ve got to enforce our borders and we’ve got to enforce our laws,” he said cautiously.