Does he double down, or does he backtrack? An hour ago, the White House announced that Donald Trump would offer some remarks about his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin at the start of a meeting with congressional members at 2 ET today. Sarah Sanders notified the press that the remarks will be open for press coverage, which means … what, exactly?
Pres Trump to make remarks on his summit with Putin at the start of his meeting with members of Congress at 2pm/ET. WH allowing press coverage.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 17, 2018
Perhaps the president is taking Anthony Scaramucci’s advice to reverse on his statement about US intelligence before the “concrete sets” on it. Or maybe Newt Gingrich has had a chance to offer his own, similar advice in a less-public way. Earlier, CNN reported that Trump was shocked at the way his remarks were received back home, perhaps convincing him that he has some amends to make:
President Donald Trump was upbeat immediately after his news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, but by the time he returned stateside, his mood had soured considerably amid sustained fury at his extraordinary embrace of the Russian leader. …
Immediately after his news conference, Trump’s mood was buoyant, people familiar with the matter said. He walked off stage in Helsinki with little inkling his remarks would cause the firestorm they did, and was instead enthusiastic about what he felt was a successful summit.
By the time he’d returned to the White House just before 10 p.m. ET on Monday, however, his mood had soured. Predictably, the President was upset when he saw negative coverage of the summit airing on television aboard Air Force One. It was clear he was getting little support, even from the usual places.
The usual places includes the normally friendly Wall Street Journal. The editorial board blasted his remarks in Helsinki as “a personal and national embarrassment,” part of a longer critique of his just-concluded foreign policy tour:
Details from the private Trump-Putin talks in Helsinki will spill out in coming days, but Monday’s joint press conference was a personal and national embarrassment. On stage with the dictator whose election meddling has done so much harm to his Presidency, Mr. Trump couldn’t even bring himself to say he believed his own intelligence advisers like Dan Coats over the Russian strongman.
“I have—I have confidence in both parties,” Mr. Trump said. “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Denials from liars usually are strong and powerful. …
For a rare moment in his Presidency, Mr. Trump also projected weakness. He was the one on stage beseeching Mr. Putin for a better relationship, while the Russian played it cool and matter of fact. Mr. Trump touted their personal rapport, saying the bilateral “relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.” In four hours?
In response to the avalanche of criticism, the White House sent talking points to Capitol Hill Republicans in an attempt to shore up support. They emphasized the “long tradition of diplomacy and dialogue between the United States and Russia,” an argument which missed the point of the most acute controversy. The memo also emphasized that Trump challenged Putin in private on election interference, which Trump himself noted yesterday — right before dismissing US intelligence as no more convincing than Putin’s denials. So far those talking points don’t seem to be convincing too many Republicans to defend Trump.
That may be why Trump’s going to invite the press to cover the remarks at 2 pm ET. That could go either way, but it seems more likely that Trump will stick to the defenses contained within the talking points than to issue any kind of real mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa about the presser. The most he’ll likely admit is that he may have gone a little overboard in forgoing revenge for a chance at diplomatic rapprochement with Moscow, and then argue that excess in pursuit of peace is no vice.
We’ll update as developments warrant. Stay tuned.
Update: When you lose Outnumbered on Fox News…
Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe added that she believes Trump wasn’t definitive enough with his words.
“He leaves all this room for ambiguity. He’s all over the place so people can misconstrue it however they want or even take it for what it looks like,” she said.
Fox Business Network’s Dagen McDowell said that she hoped Trump would have shown Putin “some tall-guy intimidation” on the world stage.
“He is the CEO of the United States of America,” she said. “But it’s not a private company. He doesn’t own it. … He’s the CEO for all us, not himself.”
Trish Regan had harsh words for the president as well, stating the he didn’t defend the American people.
“It was an easy question. He should have known it was coming,” she said. “I’m disappointed. He was not the patriot he should have been yesterday.”
That impression will take some effort to undo.
Update: A small walkback? Trump said he misspoke on the most criticized part of his response:
MORE: Trump says he meant to say in Helsinki that he saw no reason why it would not be Russia that interfered in elections
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) July 17, 2018
So far this does not appear to be carried live on any stations, but we’ll keep up with reports as they come in.
Update: Trump also accepts the conclusion of Russian meddling:
BREAKING: Trump says 'I accept' US intelligence agencies conclusions on Russian meddling.
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) July 17, 2018
Update: He’s finally distinguishing between “meddling” and “collusion”:
Trump: I have full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies..I always have. Russia’s actions had no impact let me be clear. I accept our interest community conclusion that meddling took place..There was no collusion at all.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) July 17, 2018
Perhaps Mooch made it through the White House switchboard this morning.
Update: CBS’ Ed O’Keefe thinks it’s a modified limited walkback, of sorts:
NEW: President Trump says he has "full faith and support" for America's intelligence agencies amid mounting criticism for failing to condemn Russian election meddling https://t.co/ZU0DDFnp0P pic.twitter.com/UpHorcB8K5
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 17, 2018
Update: Lest anyone think that it would be all mea culpas …
"We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russia interference in 2018," President Trump says. "We have a lot of power and, as you know, President Obama was given information just prior to the election, the last election 2016, and they decided not to do anything about it." pic.twitter.com/NNAUw4oIKv
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 17, 2018
True enough, but that’s been well known for almost two years now. So why let Putin off the hook for it in Helsinki?