Fact Check: Trump's Mixed Messages on Russian Meddling

Trump has made comments questioning whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections

President Donald Trump thanked Fox News for airing a montage on July 19 that he said showed “Trump recognized Russian Meddling MANY TIMES.” But the video also shows Trump equivocating on the issue, saying, “I think it was probably other people and/or countries.” And he has made other comments questioning whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

In fact, the president on July 22 tweeted that the Russia investigation was “all a big hoax.”

We’ll go through the president’s statements on the matter since January 2017, including the full context of comments used in the Fox News montage.

Trump has acknowledged numerous times that he believes U.S. intelligence officials who concluded Russians interfered in the 2016 election, but he has often tempered those statements with other comments like, “Nobody really knows for sure.”

In discussing the issue, Trump has branded intelligence officials who led the investigation early on “political hacks,” or in the case of former FBI director James Comey, “a liar.” He has pointed out that the intelligence agencies have gotten things wrong in the past, such as whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He has repeatedly noted that Putin vehemently denies Russian interference, and, Trump said, “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump also said that someone who told him “if they [Russians] were involved, you wouldn’t have found out about it” made an “interesting point.”

On Twitter, he has referred to “the so-called Russian Meddling.”

While he has said “it could very well have been Russia,” he has repeatedly added, “I think it could well have been other countries” — though there is no evidence for that. U.S. intelligence has named only Russia as the culprit.

Trump’s Statements Since Intelligence Briefing

The New York Times reported on July 18 that two weeks before his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump “was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.”

According to the Times, “The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.”

That same day, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publicly released a declassified intelligence report that said: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and the goal of the campaign was “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly questioned the idea that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC, as we documented in our story “In His Own Words: Trump on Russian Meddling.” But even after the briefing with intelligence officials on Jan. 6, 2017, he continued to send muddied messages about whether he believed Russians, or Russians alone, were responsible for hacking into the computers of officials at the Democratic National Committee and conducting other activities aimed at tipping the election scales in his favor.


Jan. 6, 2017 — Trump releases a statement about the intelligence briefing that says, in part: “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

Jan. 11, 2017 — At a news conference a week before his inauguration, Trump states, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China. We had — we had much hacking going on.”

All of that was included in the Fox video montage. Trump goes on to criticize the DNC for not adequately defending itself against hacks. He suggests he did not believe the intent of the Russian effort was to help his campaign. “I think, frankly, had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary and all of the horrible things that her people, like Mr. Podesta, said about her,” Trump says, referring to Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

He also says this: “But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”

Asked by a reporter if he accepted the intelligence report conclusion that Putin ordered the campaign because he wanted to help Trump, the president replies, “Well, if — if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.”

April 29, 2017 — Trump tells CBS News’ John Dickerson, “[K]nowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”

July 6, 2017 — At a joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Trump states at various points, “Well, I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people in other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered … I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries … It was Russia, and I think it was others also.” Those comments were included in the Fox News montage Trump highlighted.

“I’ve said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia,” Trump says. “I think it could well have been other countries. And I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time. It’s been happening for many, many years.”

In the press conference, a reporter says, “You again state you think it was Russia. Your intelligence agencies have been far more definitive. They say it was Russia. Why won’t you agree and say it was?”

Trump responds, in part, “I agree, I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure. I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq. Weapons of mass destruction. How everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what — that led to one big mess. They were wrong and it led to a mess.”

July 12, 2017 — In an interview with reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump is asked about broaching the issue with Putin during the G20 summit. “And I said to him, ‘Were you involved with the meddling in the election?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not. I was not involved.’ He was very strong on it,” Trump says. “I then said to him again, in a totally different way, ‘Were you involved with the meddling?’ He said, I was not — absolutely not. … Somebody said later to me, which was interesting. Said, let me tell you, if they were involved, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Okay, which is a very interesting point.”

Nov. 11, 2017 — In a press gaggle aboard Air Force One, Trump is asked if he brought up the issue with Putin. Trump responds, “He just — every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget, all he said is he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Asked whether he believed Putin, Trump says, “I think that he is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. And then you look, and you look at what’s going on with Podesta, and you look at what’s going on with the server from the DNC and why didn’t the FBI take it, why did they leave it; why did a third party look at the server and not the FBI — if you look at all of this stuff, and you say, what’s going on here? And then you hear it’s 17 agencies. Well, it’s three. And one is Brennan and one is whatever. I mean, give me a break. They’re political hacks. So you look at it — I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker. So you look at that, and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that. Now, you’re not going to get into an argument. You’re going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”

In a press conference in Vietnam that same day, Trump is asked about his comment about Putin’s denials and if he believes Putin and/or Russia interfered in the election. Trump says, “What I said there, I’m surprised that there’s any conflict on this. What I said there is that I believe he believes that, and that’s very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies.”


March 6, 2018 — In a press conference Trump states, “Well, the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever. But, certainly, there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals.”

That was another comment included in the Fox montage. As we wrote when Trump said something similar on July 6, 2017 — that the computer hacking “could have been other people and other countries” — there is no evidence for that, and U.S. intelligence has named only Russia as the culprit.

May 27, 2018 — Trump sends out a tweet referring to “the so-called Russian Meddling.”

June 28, 2018 — Trump tweets, “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!”

July 16, 2018 —During a joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Trump says Putin denied involvement in an influence campaign. A reporter pointedly asks Trump whether he believes U.S. intelligence agencies or Putin.

Trump begins his response by questioning why the DNC failed to turn over its servers to FBI investigators (though the former FBI director testified last year that it did not hurt the investigation, which on July 13 resulted in an indictment against 12 Russian military intelligence agents).

“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump says. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server.” Trump adds, “I have confidence in both parties.”

Trump also says, “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.”

July 17, 2018 — The day after his press conference with Putin, in a meeting with members of Congress, Trump says he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” Trump adds that he has “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies” and that, “I have felt very strongly that, while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.”

July 22, 2018 — Just a few days after thanking Fox News for showing clips he says demonstrate he has recognized Russian meddling many times, Trump tweets that the investigation is “all a big hoax.”

In a press conference on July 23, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s “hoax” comment was “referencing the collusion component,” not the Russia investigation in general. Said Sanders: “As the President has said many times, and stated over and over again — as have I, as have a number of other administration officials — we maintain that Russia interfered in the elections. The President, however, very much so, and has repeatedly — as, again, have the rest of us — that his campaign colluding in that process is a total hoax.”

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