WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington political playbook called for President Donald Trump to make clear — and fast — that the U.S. wasn’t in the pocket of Russia President Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday, Trump relented, saying he misspoke on Russian election meddling.
But apologies and clarifying statements aren’t typically Trump’s style. Here’s a look at Trump’s stunning reversal and what might happen next:
Trump was under tremendous pressure by his own party to apologize for his remarks. With Putin at his side, Trump said Monday he didn’t “see any reason why” Russia would try to interfere in the U.S. election.
“He’s got to reverse course immediately,” said Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as Trump’s White House communications director, told CNN early Tuesday.
Newt Gingrich, a close ally to Trump, called it “the most serious mistake of his presidency” and tweeted that it “must be corrected_immediately.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both piled on. Ryan said “there should be no doubt” about Russia’s actions, while McConnell cited a “widespread view” among senators that Russia poses a threat to the U.S.
Early Tuesday morning, Trump was blaming “Fake News” on Twitter for mischaracterizing his meeting with Putin. Then just hours later, he sharply reversed course, telling reporters he misspoke and that he meant to say he doesn’t see why Russia “wouldn’t” be responsible for election interference.
BUT WILL IT LAST?
Retractions are almost unheard of when it comes to Trump, who typically prefers to dig in.
After last year’s deadly clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, the president initially declined to unequivocally condemn the white supremacist groups involved, instead blaming “many sides.” After much pushback, he delivered a carefully worded statement condemning members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and violent white supremacists as “criminals and thugs.”
But Trump later reverted and again blamed “both sides.” The back-and-forth prompted such a strong public reaction that the Republican National Committee wound up taking the extra step of specifically denouncing white supremacist groups, with some members grumbling that they had been put in the position to defend the GOP against allegations of racism.
Then earlier this year, at a private meeting at the White House, Trump offered shifting explanations on whether he used a vulgarity to describe some African nations. Months later when Trump met the Nigerian president at the White House, the two leaders carefully avoided the topic.
QUESTIONS FROM CONGRESS
The optics matter. Trump remains under investigation for obstruction of justice, and special counsel Robert Mueller last week laid out detailed indictments of 12 Russian military officers for hacking Democrats’ computers. Meanwhile, Republicans this fall will have to defend their majority in Congress by running against Democrats who claim Trump has bowed to Putin, a former KGB spy.
Some lawmakers talked about passing a resolution denouncing Russia’s election meddling, or even considering new sanctions against Moscow. But those moves are unlikely to change much in the minds of American voters or keep Russia from interfering in future elections. (Congressional resolutions don’t carry the force of law.)
On Tuesday, some senators said they wanted to hold hearings on the matter, including testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on what exactly happened during Trump’s private two-hour meeting with Putin.
“The Russians have been manipulating elections for the past couple of decades,” Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, a former undercover CIA officer, told CNN. “And guess what? They’re going to continue.”