President Donald Trump on Thursday pointed a finger of blame at Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and warned North Korea he is considering “severe” actions in response to its nuclear arms and long-range missile programs.
In a wide-ranging joint news conference with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw, Trump also lambasted CNN and other American media outlets he again dubbed “fake news” and announced — though in a slightly veiled manner — the United States will seek to undermine Moscow’s leverage in Europe by challenging its natural gas “monopoly” there.
“I think it was Russia … and I think it could have been other countries,” Trump said when asked if he believes Moscow meddled in the U.S. election. He later added unnamed “other people” to that list.
“A lot of people interfere” in elections across the globe, he said, adding that “nobody really knows for sure” what happened.
But the president opted against sending any kind of hard message to Russian President Vladimir Putin the day before they’ll meet at the G-20 summit in Germany.
And Trump attempted multiple times during his slightly rambling answer to deflect attention from the allegations against Russia and onto, as he put it, why then-President Obama “did nothing about it” after intelligence officials notified him last August.
The U.S. president charged Obama with opting against retaliating against Moscow because he thought Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, his first secretary of State, would win the election.
Had Obama believed Trump was on track to take the White House, Trump said, the 44th president would have done “plenty” to check Russia’s alleged interference.
“I don’t think he choked,” Trump said of Obama, using language a former Obama administration used in a conversation with the Washington Post about the response to Russia’s alleged actions.
And in a remarkable moment, the American leader appeared to try and give the Kremlin cover. He pointed to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies in the early 2000s that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“They were wrong,” a clearly agitated Trump said. “That led to one big mess.”
Trump also was asked to address the situation on the Korean Peninsula, where the North Korean regime on Tuesday conducted its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach Alaska.
He said he is considering “severe” actions in response to what he called “dangerous” behavior from North Korea, adding what he ultimately decides to do in response to the North’s nuclear arms and missile programs will be shaped by what happens over the new few “weeks and months.”
Even as Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda were asked about other matters, Russia loomed over the joint news conference.
In a rare and veiled shot at Moscow, Trump said his administration is working hard to complete a deal that will see American natural gas flow into Poland in part so that and other European countries are not dependent on a single supplier.
Russia currently provides a large slice of central and eastern Europe’s natural gas, giving the Kremlin ample leverage in the region. It is important no country holds a “monopoly” over energy exports to central and eastern Europe, Trump said in Warsaw.
Trump and Duda predicted their governments soon will finalize an agreement that will give the “green light” to a long-term contract that will allow more American natural gas to be exported to Poland. Duda told reporters he sees his country eventually becoming a “hub” for U.S. gas to flow to other European countries.
Finally, American reporters in Warsaw took to Twitter even before the news conference ended to express shock at Trump and Duda openly slamming news outlets in their respective countries.
Trump was asked about his tweet of a video on Sunday showing CNN’s logo on the head of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Vince McMahon. The footage from a 2007 WWE pay-per-view event during which he clotheslined McMahon and sent him flailing to the arena floor.
Many journalists and free-press advocates have called the president tweeting such a video an encouragement of violence against the press.
The president did not explain how he obtained the video nor why he fired off the tweet. But he did call CNN “fake news,” saying, “We don’t want fake news” in the United States. He also called NBC News just as “bad” as CNN moments before calling on a NBC reporter for the American media’s second and final question under the “2-and-2” news conference format.
Duda was then asked to explain his recent moves to limit access to Parliament for some Polish media outlets, and he blasted one unnamed news outfit for unfair coverage against his government and its predecessor. Despite their recent actions, both presidents said they support a free press in their countries.
Trump finally held a news conference overseas. But he took a question from a friendly reporter and then attacked CNN as “fake news.”
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) July 6, 2017
Extraordinary press conference in Warsaw, where Presidents Trump Duda take the opportunity to blast the press in their respective countries.
— Gregory Korte (@gregorykorte) July 6, 2017
Contrast with President Obama, who often made a point of extolling a free press — especially when overseas.
— Gregory Korte (@gregorykorte) July 6, 2017