The White House pushed back Tuesday against criticism that President Trump was slow to acknowledge Russian meddling in the election and hasn’t been tough enough on Moscow.
“The president has been extremely tough on Russia,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
She bristled at questions about the president’s reluctance to acknowledge Russian meddling or call out Russian President Vladimir Putin by name.
“One of the places where I think you guys seem to get very confused, and it seems to happen regularly, the president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle,” she said. “What he’s saying is it didn’t have an impact and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign.”
She noted that the Russian scheme was carried out under the Obama administration.
However, Mr. Trump in November vouched for Mr. Putin not being involved in the meddling.
“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,” Mr. Trump said after meeting with Mr. Putin during an Asia summit. “He says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.”
The president often has reacted defensively to questions about the Russian plot, which some Democrats have used to delegitimize his election and which spurred a special counsel investigation into alleged collusion by Trump campaign officials.
Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller last week charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a covert social media blitz to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including efforts to boost Mr. Trump and denigrate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The charges spurred fresh calls for Mr. Trump to not only acknowledge the meddling but also to impose sanctions on Russia that have already been approved by Congress.
Mrs. Sanders recalled that the president acknowledged Russian election meddling during the transition and twice during a trip to Poland in July.
Mrs. Sanders said the administration was following the legal requirements for imposing sanctions.
Stressing that Mr. Trump has been tougher than President Obama on Russia, she noted spending $700 billion to rebuild the military, closing of three Russian diplomatic buildings, arming the Ukrainians and exporting energy to Eastern Europe.
“I can assure you that Russia is not excited about that,” Mrs. Sanders said. “There are a number of places where Obama was too weak and refused to put pressure on Russia where this president has.”
Mr. Obama closed two Russian compounds and expelled 35 spies after Mr. Trump’s unexpected election victory.