By Jeremy Diamond, CNN
President Donald Trump, a week after downplaying Russian interference in US elections, said Tuesday he is “very concerned” that Russia will look to impact the 2018 midterm elections and said he believes Moscow will look to boost Democrats this time.
Trump offered no evidence for his claim that Russia would look to help Democrats win in 2018 beyond claiming he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessors.
“I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Trump’s tweet comes a week after he faced blistering criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for touting Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election and challenging the US intelligence community’s assessment of that interference. Trump partially walked back his comments after returning to the US by saying he misspoke when he said he didn’t see why “it would be Russia.”
But the next day, Trump replied “no” when asked if he believes Russia is still targeting the US — with the White House press secretary later claiming he was not responding to that question.
The US intelligence community concluded after the 2016 election that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Trump win. While Putin denied any Russian interference last week, he confirmed that he did want Trump to win the presidency “because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.”
Still, Trump’s tweet Tuesday is the US President’s firmest confirmation to date of ongoing Russian attempts to interfere in the US democratic process.
Asked last week whether he agreed with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ assessment that the Russian threat is ongoing, Trump offered only tepid support.
“Well, I’d accept, I mean he’s an expert. This is what he does,” Trump said. “He’s been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats. And if he says that, I would accept that. I will tell you though, it better not be. It better not be.”
The Trump administration has leveled sanctions against Russia and expelled alleged spies working in the US on diplomatic cover, but Trump has faced criticism for offering little public criticism of Russian actions. Whereas Trump has fiercely criticized close US allies in recent months, he has offered little to no criticism of Russian actions around the world.
Instead, ahead of his summit with Putin, he blamed souring US-Russia relations on previous US administrations and the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Pressed on the point during the news conference in Helsinki, Trump said both the US and Russia were to blame for the nadir in relations.