By Michael Hernandez
President Donald Trump on Wednesday appeared to backtrack on comments he made alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin that have drawn bipartisan condemnation, instead defending his meeting with Putin.
Trump tore into "haters" who he said would prefer to see the U.S. go to war with Russia rather than mend ties.
"So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki," Trump said in a series of early-morning tweets.
"Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well, which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!" Trump proclaimed.
Trump has been met with widespread criticism since he sat down with Putin at a historic summit Monday in Finland.
At issue are comments he made after the summit during a joint press conference with Putin that while he has "great confidence" in the U.S. intelligence community, "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today" that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Putin "just said it’s not Russia," Trump said. "I don’t see any reason why it would be."
Trump walked those statements back Tuesday, maintaining that the "would" he said should have been "wouldn't."
"The sentence should've been: 'I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,'" Trump said at the White House. "I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place."
Intelligence agencies determined in January 2017 that Russia, operating under Putin's direction, sought to sway the outcome of the 2016 White House race through a multi-faceted effort aimed at undercutting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Putin has denied any Russian involvement.
Trump has come under fire in the past for vacillating on his acceptance of Russia's responsibility.
While the U.S. intelligence community has erred significantly in the past, most notably in the information it provided that led to the U.S.'s quagmire-inducing invasion of Iraq in 2003, Trump has not laid out any evidence that cast into question its assessment on the 2016 election.
Trump's seeming siding with Putin over his agencies created a whirlwind of criticism at home where virtually all corners of the typically divided capital honed their criticism on the president.
While his statements on Tuesday assuaged some of his closest allies' concerns, Trump is still facing barbed criticism from Republicans further afield from the president, as well as the more likely corners.
"The President’s walk-back creates more questions than answers, & the American people deserve to know whether the President really stands with the American people & our democracy," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter.
Amid the criticism, Trump took a markedly harder line during an interview with CBS News aired Wednesday, in which he said during his meeting with Putin he was "very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that".
Asked if he holds Putin personally responsible for the election meddling, Trump said: "I would, because he's in charge of the country".
"Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes," Trump said.