President Donald Trump kicked off his visit to Europe for the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, with a stop in Poland, where he held a press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda and offered his most direct statement on Russia‘s interference in the 2016 election to date.
At the tail end of the 25-minute session, Trump was asked by NBC’s Hallie Jackson if he would definitely say “yes or no” to whether he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“It was Russia,” the president said, his first declarative support for the U.S. intelligence assessment that Moscow attempted to sway the vote in his favor. Trump had previously called the entire story a hoax perpetuated by Democrats.
That admission, though, only began a long answer by the president, where he also accused other, unnamed countries of committing similar acts for a “long time,” and reiterating his stance that former President Barack Obama‘s restrained response was because he was expecting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to win.
“Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people and other countries. Could have been a lot of people interfered,” Trump said. “I said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries—and I won’t be specific, but I think a lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time, it’s been happening for many many years.”
Trump then switched over to his predecessor, criticizing him for his response to the Russian campaign.
“Now, the thing I have to mention is that Barack Obama, when he was president, found out about this in terms of if it were Russia, found out about it in August. Now, the election was in November. That’s a lot of time. He did nothing about it. Why did he do nothing about it?” Trump continued. “He was told it was Russia, by the CIA as I understand it, it was well-reported, and he did nothing about it. They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked. I think what happened is he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election and he said ‘Let’s not do anything about it.’ Had he thought the other way, he would have done something about it.”
When pressed by Jackson if he specifically agreed with his intelligence agencies about Russian interference, Trump originally said he wasn’t even sure if the U.S. had the number of intelligence agencies cited in reports about Russian hacking, then chastised the media for reporting that 17 intelligence agencies had agreed on Russia as the culprit, a claim that both the Associated Press and New York Times had to retract.
“Well, let me start off by saying, I heard it was 17 agencies. I said, ‘Boy that’s a lot. Do we even have that many intelligence agencies? Right? Let’s check it’. And we did some very heavy research and it turned out to be three or four. It wasn’t 17. And many of your compatriots had to change their reporting and they had to apologize and they had to correct,” Trump said.
The report was issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which represents all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, but not every agency contributed to the assessment. Instead, it was prepared by the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Trump, however, agreed that they were right, that Russia was involved, but again claimed that it was also “other people and/or countries,” before circling back to Obama.
Trump continued to answer what was meant to be a “yes or no” question:
“Now, with that being said, mistakes have been made, I agree, I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries and I see nothing wrong with that statement uhh nobody really knows, nobody really knows for sure, I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had WMD. Guess what, that led to one big mess. They were wrong, and it led to a mess. So it was Russia, and I think it was probably others also and that’s been going on for a long period of time, but my big question is why did Obama do nothing about it from August all the way to November 8th? He did nothing about it, and it wasn’t because he choked.”
In a speech later that day in Warsaw, Trump called on Russia to align itself with the West in supporting Ukraine and to stop aiding Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He also publicly announced his support for NATO’s Article 5, which calls on the U.S. to come to the defense of any country in the alliance if attacked.
This article has been updated.