President Donald Trump caved to an onslaught of bipartisan criticism Tuesday, walking back his embrace of Vladimir Putin and claiming he misspoke when he said he couldn't see "any reason" why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump made the acknowledgement during a brief appearance at the White House ahead of a closed-door meeting with Republican leaders.
"I accept" the intelligence community's findings, Trump told reporters.
At a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, Trump _ standing side-by-side with Putin _ put his trust in the Russian leader's denial of meddling in the 2016 election while openly questioning his own intelligence community's findings on the matter.
"He just said it's not Russia," Trump said of a private talk he had with Putin before their joint appearance. "I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a January 2017 assessment that Russian operatives meddled in the 2016 election with Putin's knowledge and endorsement. The multifaceted interference campaign was undertaken in a deliberate effort to undermine American democracy, boost Trump's campaign and disparage Hillary Clinton, according to the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department and two congressional intelligence committees.
But Trump signaled during their Helsinki conference that Putin's denial seemed more credible to him than his own intelligence community's consensus.
"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," Trump told reporters.
The president's shocking embrace of a longtime U.S. adversary was rebuked by Republicans and Democrats alike.
A number of congressional lawmakers said Trump's refusal to confront Putin amounted to treasonous behavior that will go down as a low point in American history.
"Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "The damage inflicted by President Trump's naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."