'You can ask him': Top administration officials get grilled over Trump's confusing answers on Russia



President Donald Trump's top administration officials struggled Sunday to clarify his position on Russian meddling in the 2016 election — as Trump himself muddied the waters with his tweets on the subject.

Trump said Sunday that he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting Friday whether Russia played a role in hacking and leaking private emails from top Democratic officials last year, a conclusion supported broadly by the US intelligence community that Trump has publicly doubted as recently as last week.

In a Sunday interview on "This Week," ABC host George Stephanopoulos asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin three times whether the president believed Russia meddled in the 2016 election, a question the secretary refused to answer outright.

"You say he's made it very clear how he feels," Stephanopoulos said. "But we all saw that press conference earlier in the week in Hamburg where the president said about three different things on whether or not Russia meddled. He said I think it was Russia. I think others did it. No one knows for sure.

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Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

Leaders Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet at the G-20 in Hamburg. 

(Image: Reuters video)

HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA) Donald Trump, President of the USA (left), meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (right), at the opening of the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Steffen Kugler /BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: In this photo provided by the German Government Press Office (BPA), Donald Trump, President of the USA (C) meets Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) during the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by BPA via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 7, 2017: Melania Trump (L), First Lady of the United States, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit. Mikhail Klimentyev/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: International leaders attend the group photo on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: World leaders pose for a family photo during the G20 summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Leaders of the G20 group of nations are meeting for the July 7-8 summit. Topics high on the agenda for the summit include climate policy and development programs for African economies. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a family photo along with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S.President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazilian President Michel Temer, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Senegal's President Macky Sall, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Saudi Arabia Minister of State Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Secretary Jose Angel Gurria, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director Roberto Azevedo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director Guy Ryder, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Financial Stability Board (FSB) President Mark Carney and other leaders at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
French President Emmanuel Macron, U.S. President Donald Trump, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, South African President Jacob Zuma, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and other leaders pose for a family photo at the G20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C-R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C-L) hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to Melania Trump during the official dinner at the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Kay Nietfeld,Pool
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JULY 07: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to the US first lady Melania Trump (R) as they attend a state banquet in the Elbphilarmonie concert Hall on the first day of the G20 economic summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. The G20 group of nations are meeting July 7-8 and major topics will include climate change and migration. . (Photo by Felipe Trueba - Pool / Getty Images)
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"What is the president's position on whether or not Russia interfered in the election? Does he accept the conclusions of the intelligence community?" he said.

"I think it was very clear what he said," Mnuchin said. "He said those three things and that's what he believes. But, again, what's important here is, what is the president doing? This is a president that's focused on action. And this was a foreign trip where we had very, very significant meetings."

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley faced similar questions during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

Though she forcefully argued that "everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections," Haley dismissed questions about whether Trump believed Russia meddled in the election, saying that people were "trying to nitpick" Trump's statements.

"You said everybody knows that the Russians meddled in the U.S. elections, and that the President said so behind closed doors with Vladimir Putin," host Dana Bash said. "If that's the case, why won't the President say this in public? It would put a lot of these questions, and frankly the fact that a lot of your fellow Republicans are perplexed, it would put it all to rest. Why won't he do it?"

"I think that you can ask him," Haley said. "I mean, I think that that's one of the things, let him say this. We heard a lot of people saying that about Article 5 and NATO, that, 'Why didn't he say it, why didn't he say it?' He didn't say it then because he wasn't changing policy. When he was in Poland, give a fantastic speech, and he said that he supported Article 5. And he said that he supported our NATO allies."

"And so I think, everybody's trying to nitpick what he says and what he doesn't, but talk is one thing. Actions are another. He confronted President Putin. He made it the first thing that he talked about. And I think we have to now see where it goes from here."

Trump officials hoping to move away from discussions about Russian meddling weren't helped by Putin, who stoked doubt by saying that Trump seemed "satisfied" by Putin's denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Asked on "Fox News Sunday" about Putin's description of the meeting, Trump's chief of staff Reince Priebus pushed back, saying Trump believed Russia interfered in the election.

"He's answered this question many times," Priebus said. "He's said they probably meddled in the election, they did meddle in the election. The one thing that he also says which drives the media crazy but it's an absolute fact, is that others have as well."

Trump seemed to further complicate his message on Sunday by announcing discussions of a joint cybersecurity task force with Russia, a move that provoked immediate criticism from Democrats and Republicans who questioned Trump's willingness to accept that Russia would act in good faith.

"I don't think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of a credible partner in some cyber-security unit," Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. "I think that would be dangerously naive for this country. If that's our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow."

Republican senators Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham agreed.


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