On Sunday morning, as he is wont to do, President Donald Trump tweeted — once, twice, three times, and more. It was a busy presidential morning. One missive in particular, however, stood out: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump wrote. “I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer’. The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it never did!” This would make sense, if it were even a little bit true.
It appears the president is suffering from a bit of Russian-meddling-denial amnesia, or perhaps a case of selective memory: Trump has publicly doubted increasingly clear evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. And he’s done so a lot. Fact-checking website PolitiFact declared Trump’s continued proclamations that Russian interference is a “made-up story” as its 2017 Lie of the Year.
Trump still isn’t sure whether President Obama was born in the US, but he thinks Vladimir Putin seems like a stand-up, honest guy
Trump has repeatedly said he takes Russian President Vladimir Putin at his word when he denies meddling in the 2016 election, because he seems like a nice enough guy, right? “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of Putin last November, while speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One.
A few months earlier in July, the president said something similar in an interview with Reuters after having met with Putin. “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said. When asked whether he thought Putin did it, the president said “something happened” — but that Putin seems like a pretty savvy guy, someone who would be hard to catch. “Somebody did say if he did do it, you won’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point,” Trump said.
Beyond Putin, Trump has said he isn’t so sure about this whole Russia thing on many occasions on Twitter, in interviews, and on tape, dating back to before he was even elected.
At a September 2016 presidential debate against Democratic President Hillary Clinton, Trump was asked about the Democratic National Committee hack, which was apparently carried out by Russians during the campaign. (That’s where he made the 400-pound-guy-in-the-basement comments he referenced on Sunday.) “She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?” he said then.
At a February 2017 press conference, Trump said, “The whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse. That’s a ruse.”
In May 2017, soon after firing then-FBI Director James Comey, Trump told NBC News’ Lester Holt that his decision was based on the Russia investigation’s progress. “When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won,’” he said.
In September 2017, he tweeted about Russian ad-buying on Facebook to influence voters, calling it a continuation of the “Russia hoax.”
As recently as last month Trump was claiming the Russia investigation was a Democratic hoax. “For 11 months, they’ve had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It’s a Democratic hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that frankly the Democrats should have won,” he said at a press conference. At the same conference, he repeated the words “no collusion” seven times in a single answer.
This week, CNN reported that Trump still remains unconvinced Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
CNBC on Friday listed multiple instances of Trump’s public doubting of Russian interference in US politics. Add to the list above the following:
- In April 2017, Trump told John Dickerson on CBS’s Face the Nation it’s hard to figure out who’s responsible for hacking. “Knowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking,” Trump said. “With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. It could have been China. It could have been a lot of different groups.” In the same interview, he called collusion allegations a “phony story” and said he didn’t know if the Russian meddling story was, too.
- Trump has repeatedly called Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into what happened in the 2016 election — and into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with a foreign power — a “witch hunt.”
- The president has also asked why the Obama administration didn’t do more if Russia was really interfering in the 2016 election. “Why did the White House wait so long to act?” he tweeted in December 2016, as president-elect.
Most of Trump’s criticism of the Russia investigation has focused on collusion, which the president has spent a lot of time denying. (Part of the White House’s response to Mueller’s Friday indictments of Russian companies and individuals literally included the words “NO COLLUSION.”) But to say that Trump never doubted the entire Russia interference story is a lie. Call it fake news.