“I don't want to get into whether or not he's lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted,” President Trump told CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor.
The president's comment continues his reluctance to strongly condemn President Putin head on, publicly at least, for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was clear interference by the Kremlin, under Putin's direction, to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. But while the president has stopped short of saying whether he believes Putin did, in fact, order Russian efforts, he did say that he holds Putin personally responsible.
"Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country," Trump said when asked if he holds him responsible for the interference. "Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes."
Trump claimed he was much tougher with Putin in their private meeting than how he has characterized it so far.
When Glor asks, "What did you say to him?" during their private meeting, Trump responds, "Very strong on the fact that we can't have meddling. We can't have any of that."
Later, Trump says, "I let him know we can't have this. We're not going to have it. And that's the way it's going to be."
The president goes on to say in the interview that he “would accept” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ assessment that Russia continues to be engaged in "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our Democracy" after earlier Wednesday contradicting Coats in saying that he does not think Russia is still targeting the U.S.
“I’d accept that. He's an expert. This is what he does. He's been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats. If he says I would accept, I will tell you, though, it better not be. It better not be,” Trump said, referring to Russia.
Earlier in the day, when asked by ABC News' Cecilia Vega if Russia is still targeting the U.S., President Trump replied: “Thank you very much, no."
“No? You don’t believe that to be the case?” Vega followed up.
“No,” Trump said.
Later Wednesday, press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed that when the president answered "no," he was saying he couldn't answer questions and not actually saying "no" to the question about Russian targeting.
"I had a chance to speak with the president after his comments, and the president was -- said, 'Thank you very much,' and was saying 'no' to answering questions," Sanders said.
But the president was speaking directly to Vega in offering his "no" responses and even went on to take another reporter's question immediately after the exchange.