President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would hold Vladimir Putin personally responsible for Russia's meddling in the America's 2016 election "because he's in charge of the country."
In an interview with "CBS Evening News," Trump declared he has said "numerous times before" that Moscow interfered in the U.S. election.
His stance comes as controversy continues over his Monday statement at a joint news conference with Putin, that he had no reason to believe Russia interfered; on Tuesday, Trump said he misspoke, and that he accepted the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies on the matter.
Asked by anchor Jeff Glor about his acceptance that Russia interfered, Trump declared, "Yeah, and I've said that before. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah."
Then pressed on whether he would hold Putin personally responsible, Trump replied: "Well, 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," he said. "So, certainly as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible, yes."
He declined to answer whether Putin — who adamantly denies Moscow interfered with the U.S. election — is lying, however.
"I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying," Trump said. "I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think that [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats is excellent. I think that [CIA Director] Gina [Haspel] is excellent. I think we have excellent people in the agencies. And when they tell me something, it means a lot."
Trump also disclosed, during his closed-door, one-on-one meeting Monday with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, he was "very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling, we can't have any of that."
"Now, look, we're also living in a grown-up world," Trump told Glor.
"Will a strong statement – you know – President [Barack] Obama supposedly made a strong statement – nobody heard it. What they did hear is a statement he made to Putin's very close friend, and that statement was not acceptable – didn't get very much play relatively speaking. But that statement was not acceptable.
"But I let him know we can't have this, we're not going to have it, and that's the way it's going to be."
Trump was referencing an incident in 2012, when a hot microphone picked up Obama telling Russian President Dmitri Medvedev he would have more flexibility to negotiate on issues like missile defense after the election that year.
Trump picked apart Obama-era intelligence agency officials for a particularly harsh condemnation after being asked if he felt the intel community was "out to get you."
"Well, certainly in the past, it's been terrible," he said, ticking off former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden, ex-FBI Director James Comey and his Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, as well as anti-Trump FBI staffers agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
"Certainly, I can't have any confidence in the past, but I can have a lot of confidence in the present and the future, because it's getting to be now where we're putting our people in," he said.
"No, I have no confidence in a guy like Brennan — I think he's a total low life," he railed. "I have no confidence in Clapper. You know, Clapper wrote me a beautiful letter when I first went to office, and it was really nice. And, then all of a sudden, he's gone haywire because they got to him, and they probably got him to say things that maybe he doesn't even mean. But, no, I certainly don't have confidence in past people."
As for the torrent of criticism about his joint news conference with Putin, Trump said, "I don't know what the fuss is all about."
"I think I did great at the news conference," he said. "I think it was a strong news conference. You have people that said 'you should have gone up to him. You should have walked up and started screaming in his face.' We're living in the real world. OK?"
"I think we did extremely well," he added. "It's fake news. People understand that. I think the press largely makes up a lot of the fuss about a lot of things. I'm not talking about one thing. I'm talking about everything. It's crazy. You do something that's positive and they try the make it as negative as possible."
He extolled his 2½-hour meeting with Putin, saying: "we discussed many, many things that were very, very positive for both countries."
"Things emerged out that were very important," Trump declared. "Nuclear proliferation between Russia and the United States . . . protection of Israel, he feels good about that. I feel good about that . . . we talked about North Korea. He said he will help. He agrees with what I'm doing. He thinks I'm doing a great job with respect to North Korea. He said he would help. I think he will."
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