President Trump has made a rare admission of error, after being widely criticised for appearing to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
In a press conference with the Russian president in Helsinki, Mr Trump was asked about accusations from American intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election that brought him to power.
Mr Putin denied any involvement. Mr Trump was asked: “Who do you believe?”
The question came just days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump/Russia scandal charged 12 alleged Russian intelligence officers with hacking members of Hillary Clinton’s Democrat party and leaking their stolen emails.
Mr Trump answered: “My people… said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.
“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
His words sparked a massive backlash of criticism from Democrats, fellow Republicans and even the President’s favourite network, Fox News.
A day later, Mr Trump blamed the remark on a slip of the tongue.
“I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.'”
But this doesn’t begin to explain the complexities of Mr Trump’s position on the allegations of Russian interference. Here’s why.
The comment was just one of many similar ones
Within the same joint news conference Mr Trump was repeatedly asked about Russian interference, and he repeatedly failed to back his intelligence agencies without equivocating or expressing doubt.
Asked if he held Russia accountable for its actions, he said: “Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.”
Asked about the 12 Russian officials named in the latest Mueller indictment, Mr Trump repeated his insistence that Russian operatives did not co-ordinate with his campaign to influence the election.
“There was no collusion with the campaign and every time you hear all of these you know 12 and 14 – stuff that has nothing to do and frankly they admit – these are not people involved in the campaign.
“But to the average reader out there, they’re saying well maybe that does. It doesn’t. And even the people involved, some perhaps told mis-stories or in one case the FBI said there was no lie. There was no lie. Somebody else said there was.”
At another point, he said: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today…”
Almost immediately after uttering the words he corrected later, Mr Trump said he had “confidence in both” Mr Putin and his own intelligence advisers.
His correction didn’t answer the question
Even if President Trump had said the words “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia”, that would hardly be a ringing endorsement of American intelligence agencies or the Mueller investigation.
In October 2016, the intelligence community issued a joint statement saying they were confident that it was indeed the Russian government who directed the Democrat email hacks “to interfere with the US election process”.
In January 2017 they followed up with a report alleging that President Putin had personally ordered an influence campaign aimed at helping the Trump campaign and hurting Hillary Clinton’s election chances.
Last week’s criminal charges fleshed out the original hacking accusation in extraordinary detail – publishing the names of 12 individuals alleged to have been working for Russian military intelligence, their methodology, the location of their offices, and even the search terms they are said to have typed into computers.
Mr Trump did not address any of this evidence in the press conference, preferring to stick to the line that there had been no “collusion” between his campaign and Russia.
He waited a day to issue the correction
Why would Mr Trump wait more than 24 hours to correct the record if he had made a simple slip of the tongue?
In the meantime, he sent a number of tweets that did not mention the apparent blunder and praised the meeting as a success.
The president has form here: last year he said there was violence “on many sides” following a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was killed.
He waited two days to make more strongly-statement, saying: “Racism is evil.”
The follow-up statement only came after Democrats and Republicans alike had offered fierce criticism of his first statement in the media.
He has walked back on his walk-backs in the past
The Charlottesville story doesn’t end there. A day after issuing the second statement, Mr Trump appeared to double down on his original controversial remarks.
He told reporters there had indeed been “blame on both sides” at Charlottesville, and said of those who attended the rally: “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.”
Trump has a long record of stating disbelief in US agencies
The president now says he accepts the view of the intelligence community that Russia did meddle in the 2016 election – although he appeared to hedge by saying: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
But he has sown doubt about the competence of his own agencies on many occasions.
In December 2016 he rejected the official line on Russian meddling in the election, saying: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
And in January 2017 he blamed the intelligence agencies for leaking information about his associates’ Russian ties and appeared to compare them to the Nazis:
He has consistently mocked the Special Counsel investigation into election interference, repeating the mantra that the probe is a “witch hunt” and biased against him.
The Mueller investigation has so far charged at least 32 individuals, and five people have pleaded guilty to various offences.
No member of the Trump campaign team has been charged with knowingly co-ordinating with Russian intelligence.