On Thursday, President Donald Trump shocked many in his own party by indicating that he does not believe that Russia is continuing to try to interfere with U.S. elections. In response to a reporter referring Mueller’s conclusion that the interference is ongoing, Trump responded. “You don’t really believe this, do you?”
Here is the exchange:
REPORTER: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in the U.S. elections right now. Is that —
TRUMP: “Oh you don’t really believe this. Do you believe this? Ok, fine. We didn’t talk about it. I spoke with President Putin of Russia yesterday. They are having massive fires in their forest. I’ve never seen anything like it. I just offered our assistance because we are very good at putting out forest fires frankly. If they should need it, I offered our assistance. We had a good talk, a short talk but a good talk, and I think he appreciated it.”
Trump’s own Administration, including the FBI, has testified that Russia must certainly is trying to interfere with the elections. Much like Trump’s stance on not calling the FBI with foreign contracts like the one at Trump Tower, this places him at odds with his own intelligence agencies.
In the meantime, the Republicans find themselves in the unprecedented position of being painted as soft on Russia, including billboards appearing in reference to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Moscow Mitch” or “Putin’s Mitch.”
The denial of Trump makes it more difficult for Republicans to say that, while denying collusion, the Republicans are outraged by Russian efforts and united to combat them. Trump’s comments suggest that he not only believes that Russian collusion is a hoax but Russian interference is a hoax.