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Trump says he 'misspoke' when defending Russia over US election

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands after a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on Monday. Picture byJussi Nukari via AP
Zeke Miller and Lisa Mascaro

Donald Trump has sought to "clarify" his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he had misspoken when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.

"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why I wouldn't, or why it wouldn't be Russia' instead of 'why it would'," Mr Trump said, in a rare admission of error.

His comment came – amid rising rebuke by his own party – about 27 hours after his original, widely reported statement, which he made at a summit on Monday in Helsinki standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Mr Trump said on Tuesday.

But he added: "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all."

Moments earlier, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a public reassurance to US allies in Nato and Europe with whom Mr Trump clashed during his frenzied Europe trip last week.

"The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not," Mr McConnell said.

Mr Trump maintained Tuesday's summit with Mr Putin went "even better" than his meeting with Nato allies.

He said his Nato meeting was "great" but he "had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!"

In fact, the reaction in America was immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans as well as usual Trump critics.

"Shameful", "disgraceful" and "weak" were a few of the comments.

On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia but showed no signs of acting any time soon.

"Let's be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections," said House Speaker Paul Ryan.

"What we intend to do is make sure they don't get away with it again and also to help our allies."

In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for secretary of state Mike Pompeo and other top officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Mr Trump's two-hour private session with Mr Putin.

Mr Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for US elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

Mr Trump's meeting with Mr Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important US competitor – but whom he has also praised as a strong, effective leader.

His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, were a stark illustration of Mr Trump's willingness to upend decades of US foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns.

A wary and robust stance towards Russia has been a bedrock of his party's world view.

But Mr Trump made clear he feels that any acknowledgement of Russia's election involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.

Standing alongside Mr Putin, Mr Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Mr Trump said on Monday: "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

"He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

His Monday statement drew a quick rebuttal from his director of national intelligence Dan Coats.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Mr Coats said.

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