- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2017

President Trump clarified Sunday that he believes the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election, but also said he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is “sincere” in his denials of interference.

“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin at a news conference in Hanoi with Vietnam’s president. “As to whether I believe it, I’m with our agencies. As currently led by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trump said the former heads of the FBI, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were “hacks” whose judgment he questioned on the matter of Russian meddling. The president, who now has new people heading all three agencies, said Sunday that he has worked “very strongly” with the new leadership in U.S. intelligence.

The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. A special counsel’s examination of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has led to indictments against Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman and another top aide for crimes unrelated to the campaign, and a guilty plea from a Trump foreign policy adviser.

Multiple congressional committees also are investigating.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s belief in Mr. Putin’s denial was “naive.”

“There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community,” Mr. McCain said. “Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart.”

In a tweet Sunday, the president bashed the “haters and fools” he said were questioning his efforts to improve relations with Russia, and accused critics of “playing politics” and hurting the U.S.

Referring to his earlier comments about Mr. Putin’s denials, Mr. Trump told reporters Sunday, “What I said there is that I believe he believes that, and that’s very important for somebody to believe. What he believes is what he believes. What I believe is that we have to get to work.”

He said again that the U.S. needs Russia’s help on issues ranging from North Korea to Syria.

“We have to get to work to solve Syria, to solve North Korea, to solve Ukraine, to solve terrorism,” the president said.

He also pointed to recent U.S. sanctions against Moscow over the election meddling.

“People don’t realize Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” he said. “They were sanctioned at a very high level, and that took place very recently. It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken.”

Mr. Trump commented on the Russia election issue for the second straight day Sunday shortly before he arrived in the Philippines, the final stop on a five-country trip to Asia. In Manila, Mr. Trump is meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and will attend a pair of international summits.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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