Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet one-on-one in Helsinki, Finland. In the hours leading up to the meeting, Trump blamed the previous Administration and the ‘Rigged Witch Hunt’ for the recent decline in Russia-U.S. relations on Twitter. Following several hours in closed-door meetings, the two held a joint press conference during which Trump praised Putin, denied that there was collusion, and appeared to endorse Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.
Despite the intelligence community’s repeated assessments that the Russian government was behind the hacks of the DNC, the DCCC, and John Podesta’s emails, President Donald Trump has frequently expressed doubt in or outright denied their conclusion:
- On June 15, 2016, the day after The Washington Post first reported that the DNC had been hacked by Russian spies, Trump’s team issued a statement saying, “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.”
- On July 27, 2016, Trump gave a press conference in Florida during which he again expressed doubt that Russia had been behind the DNC hack. He then urged Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” The administration has since characterized the comment as a joke.
- On September 8, 2016, in an interview with Russia’s government-backed cable news channel RT, Trump said he thought it was “probably unlikely” that Putin had ordered the hack, saying, “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows, but I think it’s pretty unlikely.” Later that day, at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Putin’s poll numbers and saying he has been “a leader far more” than President Barack Obama.
- On September 26, 2016, during the first presidential debate, Trump questioned the intelligence community’s finding that Russia was behind the DNC hack, saying, “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. [Clinton’s] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t—maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, ok?”
- On October 10, 2016, during the second presidential debate, Trump questioned whether any hacking had occurred, saying, “Maybe there is no hacking.” He added, “They always blame Russia, and the reason they blame Russia is because they think they are trying to tarnish me with Russia.”
- On October 19, 2016, during the third presidential debate, Trump again questioned whether hacking had occurred, saying “our country” had “no idea whether it is Russia, China, or anybody else.”
- On December 7, 2016, Trump reiterated that he was not convinced Russia was behind the hacks, saying, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
- On December 11, 2016, Trump called a Washington Post report on the CIA’s determination that Russia had intervened to help ensure Trump’s election “ridiculous,” saying, “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” The next day, Trump tweeted, “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”
- On December 31, 2016, Trump expressed doubt about the intelligence community’s conclusions at a news conference in Florida, saying, “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.” He then said he would reveal something about the hacking incidents on Tuesday or Wednesday of that week, a promise on which he did not ultimately deliver.
- On January 4, 2017, Trump sided with Julian Assange over the U.S. intelligence and blamed John Podesta and the DNC for having been hacked, saying, “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
- On January 11, 2017, Trump said for the first time that he believed Russia was behind the hacks, although he added, “I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” He later went on to repeat that he believed others besides Russia has perpetrated the hacks.
- On July 6, 2017, Trump, while at first appearing to confirm that he believed Russia was behind the hacks, again cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusion, saying, “Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered.” Trump then compared the intelligence community’s assessment to the invasion of Iraq, saying, “I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100% sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. 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.”
- On June 20, 2017, Trump denied allegations of Russian meddling in the election on Twitter, saying, “Why did Democratic National Committee turn down the DHS offer to protect against hacks (long prior to election. It’s all a big Dem HOAX. Why did the DNC REFUSE to turn over its Server to the FBI, and still hasn’t? It’s all a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!”
- On November 11, 2017, after speaking with Putin at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Trump told reporters that “[Putin] said he didn’t meddle … Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and 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.” Asked to clarify his remarks the next day, Trump appeared to walk the remark back, saying, “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.”