Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) said Tuesday he believes President Donald Trump simply got tripped up by his own words when he said he did not have any reason to believe Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
But Kennedy also admitted he was at first confused when Trump said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own country’s intelligence community.
Trump’s comments that he did not believe Russia interfered in the U.S. elections came during a 46-minute joint news conference at the end of Monday’s summit in Helsinki. He did not challenge Putin’s claim that his government had no role in trying to sabotage the 2016 elections, even after 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted Friday as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of election meddling.
Kennedy’s reaction came hours after Trump sought to quell mounting criticism from even some of his most ardent supporters.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House before a meeting with Republican members of Congress. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” Trump said, reading mostly off a sheet of paper, before a meeting with Republican members of Congress at the White House.
“Based on what the president said today, he had a very firm private meeting with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Kennedy told WWL-TV. “After listening to his press conference -- and I listened to it twice -- he got a little tangled up with his words.”
It remains unknown, however, exactly what the men spoke about during the two-hour-long closed-door meeting since no one else was present.
“I’m glad the president clarified things, and I think it’s important he clarified them,” Kennedy said. “I was somewhat confused about what he said.”
Kennedy recently returned from a congressional trip to Russia warned against trusting Putin and said dealing with the Russian government is like “dealing with the mafia,” the Associated Press reported.
He told the AP that there is no political philosophy in that country, only a philosophy of money and power. But he also said at the time he had no issue with Trump’s planned meeting with Putin.
“Our world would be safer if the United States and Russia had a better relationship,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “But that’s up to Mr. Putin.”
Late Monday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) tweeted that Putin “attempts to sow chaos in our elections and our society.”
“He's not a Republican and he's not a Democrat, he's a dictator who murders his political opponents and wants a weak America. He also has nuclear weapons, so whether we like it or not, we have to talk to Russia and work with Russia on some things,” Cassidy tweeted. “It was a mistake for President Obama to give Putin more flexibility and treat him as a non-threat. President Trump should not make the same mistake. In the face of Putin’s aggression, America must be strong.”