Donald Trump appears to have backtracked on establishing a joint ‘Cyber Security unit’ with Russia after it was described by a Senator in his own party as “pretty close to the dumbest idea” he’s ever heard.
But the idea was instantly ridiculed in light of the conclusions of American intelligence agencies that Russian hackers and propagandists tried to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favour.
Republicans piled in on the President - Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told NBC’s Meet the Press programme: “It’s not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it’s pretty close.”
John McCain, who chairs the Senate armed services committee, told the Face the Nation program: “There has been no penalty.
“Vladimir Putin ... got away with literally trying to change the outcome ... of our election.”
Plenty of other commentators chipped in too. Former Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, equated the move to “like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary”.
Trump also faced accusations of undermining his own intelligence agencies with the announcement.
Around 13 hours later Trump felt the need to clarify his tweet, essentially telling the world not to believe things he says.
Trump said that “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” after his lengthy meeting with Putin.
But he is still avoiding the question of whether he accepts the Russian President’s denial that his country was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election.
He said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice over the issue.
Speaking in Poland just prior to the G20 summit, Trump was asked if he would definitively say that Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
In reply he gave a muddled answer, saying: “Well I think it was Russia and it could have been other people, other countries, it could have been a lot of people [who] interfered.
“I said it very simply, it could very well have been Russia but I think it could have been other countries and I won’t be specific.
“I think a lot of people interfere, I think it’s been happening for a long time, it’s been happening for many, many years.”
The US’s electoral history is far from scandal-free, the infamous “hanging chad” episode that blighted the 2000 contest between George Bush and Al Gore being one of the more memorable.
But interference by a foreign power at the level at which the Russians are alleged to have conducted their operation is unprecedented in US history, making Trump’s dismissive attitude somewhat worrying.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov first told reporters in Germany on Friday that Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia hadn’t meddled - an assertion Putin repeated Saturday after the Group of 20 summit.
Putin said he left the meeting thinking that Trump had believed his in-person denials, reports the Associated Press.
“He asked questions, I replied. It seemed to me that he was satisfied with the answers,” Putin said.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus took issue with Putin’s characterisation.
“The president absolutely didn’t believe the denial of President Putin,” Priebus said. He said Trump had spent a “large part of the meeting on the subject,” but wanted to move onto other subjects.