After a week of tortuous statements, walk-backs and clarifications on whether he believes the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump appeared to have come full circle on Sunday night, dismissing the issue as “all a big hoax.”
In an evening tweet shortly after taking off for Washington following a weekend spent at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump questioned why President Barack Obama did not inform his campaign or the public about alleged Russian interference before Election Day.
“So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election,” Trump said. “Why didn’t he do something about it? Why didn’t he tell our campaign?”
Trump then went on to answer his own questions: “Because it is all a big hoax, that’s why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!”
The Washington Post reported last year that Obama was aware in August 2016 of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the presidential race and help elect Trump. But the Obama administration did not make its first public acknowledgment of Russia’s role until that October — and it made no mention of the effort being aimed at aiding Trump until two months later.
Trump’s tweet threw his position on the Russia issue into doubt again. Last Monday, at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump appeared to accept the Russian leader’s denial of interference. That statement was followed by days of corrections and clarifications by Trump and the White House, culminating in Trump’s seemingly begrudging acceptance of the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had, in fact, targeted the United States.
“Well, I accept. I mean, he’s an expert,” Trump told CBS News on Wednesday, referring to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who issued a statement last Monday standing by the findings of Russian interference. “This is what he does. He’s been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats, and if he says that, I would accept that.”
During a television appearance on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s “hoax tweet was targeted at allegations of coordination.
“Obviously the president is talking talking about the collusion with his campaign,” she said on “Fox & Friends.” “He’s been very clear that there wasn’t any. I think he’s said it about a thousand times.”
As GOP presidential nominee, Trump was personally briefed by the intelligence community on Russia’s attempts to interfere in the election in August 2016.
Earlier Sunday, Trump also tweeted a defense of his broadly criticized one-on-one summit with Putin.
“I had a GREAT meeting with Putin and the Fake News used every bit of their energy to try and disparage it,” Trump said. “So bad for our country!”
Coats acknowledged on Friday that he did not have any details about what Trump and Putin discussed in the meeting. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday showed that overall, 33 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the summit, while 50 percent disapprove.
John Wagner contributed to this report.