WASHINGTON – White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that he did not know whether President Donald Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the conclusion of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that the country did.
Spicer was asked a yes-or-no question near the end of a press briefing: Does Trump believe the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election?
“I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Spicer said, resorting to the fallback answer he frequently gives in response to difficult or controversial questions – that he has not had a chance to ask the president his views.
Reminded by the questioner, Trey Yingst of One America News Network, that 16 U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia did engage in cyberattacks to influence the election, Spicer said, “I understand. I’ve seen the reports.”
As to whether Trump shares that conclusion, Spicer said, “I have not sat down and asked him about his specific reaction to them.”
Trump has been inconsistent in how he talks about Russia’s interference in the election. He routinely dismisses the matter entirely as “fake news,” yet in a Jan. 11 news conference, about a week before being sworn in as president, Trump admitted for the first time that Russia hacked the email accounts of Democratic officials.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Trump said. “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.”
Around the same time, Reince Priebus, then the incoming White House chief of staff, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump accepts that Russia was behind the interference.
In April, however, Trump suggested in an interview that China, as opposed to Russia, might have been behind the cyber attacks.
“If you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking,” Trump said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He added that the perpetrator “could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups.”