By Eli Watkins
WASHINGTON — Newly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that President Donald Trump still does not accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election.
“He basically said to me, ‘Hey you know, this is, maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it,'” Scaramucci said of a recent conversation he’d had with the President about alleged Russian interference.
Prior to Trump’s inauguration, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified report showing the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency all concluded the Russian government attempted to influence the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump.
Scaramucci suggested Trump does not yet accept the conclusion of the intelligence community and questioned the media’s pursuit of the story, saying it tarnished Trump’s victory in November.
“The mainstream media position on this, that they interfered in the election,” Scaramucci said. “It actually in his mind, what are you guys suggesting? You’re going to delegitimize his victory?”
Scaramucci said he intended to review the intelligence community’s evidence once he had his security clearance and pledged to give Trump his personal thoughts on the conclusions. He said Trump would make up his own mind in time and that if Trump believed Russia was responsible for the 2016 efforts and a threat to future elections, he would act.
“A person that’s going to be super, super tough on Russia is President Donald J. Trump,” Scaramucci said.
Trump has offered varied responses on Russian efforts to influence the election over the past few months. Speaking ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in early July, Trump said, “It was Russia, and I think it was probably others also.” He also cast doubt on the strength of the intelligence community’s conclusions, citing the erroneous assessment that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
On Sunday, Trump posted a tweet that called the Russia probe a “witch hunt,” saying Democrats were using the Russian hacking allegations as an “excuse for a lost election.”
“As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” he wrote.
In a separate interview earlier on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Sen. Al Franken appeared at a loss, responding, “What can you say? It’s just bizarre.”
‘Mr. President, I apologize’
Prior to becoming a Trump supporter, Scaramucci had backed Scott Walker and criticized Trump on several occasions. He wrote a scathing piece last year arguing against what he called “unbridled demagoguery” taking over the GOP. Asked about his shift of position, Scaramucci said both he and Trump didn’t care, and addressed the President directly.
“If I said some things about him when I was working from another candidate, Mr. Trump, Mr. President, I apologize for that,” Scaramucci said.
He dismissed the scrutiny around his past comments as part of an unfair political purity test, and said it was totally untrue that he was suppressing his own beliefs to get closer to the power and prestige of the White House.
And now that he is in his new job, Scaramucci said it was time for things to change in the White House communications shop.
“There’s obviously a communications problem,” Scaramucci said.
For one thing, he said in his own opinion — which he said was not the final decision — the White House should agree to put press briefings on camera again. For another, he said he would address leaks to the press from within the White House on Monday.
He said he would tell the staff, “If we don’t stop the leaks, I’m going to stop you.”
Fresh on the job, Scaramucci found himself talking about one of the President’s tweets.
Following a story in The Washington Post that stated Trump and his legal team were exploring the mechanics of the President’s pardoning authority, including whether he could pardon himself, Trump tweeted, “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”
Scaramucci said that despite the report and the tweets, Trump was not actually considering pardoning anyone, including himself.
“The President is thinking about pardoning nobody,” Scaramucci said. “The President is not going to have to pardon anybody because the Russian thing is a nonsensical thing.”
As for a bill that would increase sanctions on Russia and give Congress a check on the administration’s authority to offer Russia sanctions relief, Scaramucci said it was still up in the air whether Trump would sign it, should it pass.
“You’ve got to ask President Trump that,” Scaramucci said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that the White House supported the legislation at this point. On Saturday, House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement on the bill.