Trump supports UK claim Russia to blame for nerve agent attack

PHOTO: Donald Trump responds to questions on the departure of Rex Tillerson from the news media as he departs the White House, March 13, 2018. PlayShawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
WATCH Trump signals support for UK claim against Russia

President Donald Trump Tuesday voiced strong support for British Prime Minister Theresa May a day after she alleged Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom earlier this month against a former Russian spy.

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“It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all of the evidence they have,” the president asserted as left the White House Tuesday for a trip to California. “It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact.”

Trump indicated he would be able to come to a more definitive conclusion after speaking with May later Tuesday.

"I’m speaking to Theresa May today," Trump said, adding, “As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be."

On Monday, May delivered a strong assessment condemning the Kremlin for the attack based on mounting evidence, including Russia's previous production of the agent and “record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations.”

“The Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” the prime minister said. "Our commitment to collective defense and security through NATO remains as strong as ever in the face of Russian behavior."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May participate in a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Jan. 27, 2017.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May participate in a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Jan. 27, 2017.

Trump's comments went much further than the White House was willing to say up until now. When asked Monday whether the White House backed May's comments, press secretary Sarah Sanders did not blame Russia in any way or even mention Russia by name.

“The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage,” Sanders said Monday. “The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation, and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families and our support to the UK government.”

Before he was fired Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke with the White House's response on Russia Monday night, releasing his own tough statement calling Russia “an irresponsible force of instability in the world.”

“We have full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible,” he said in a pointed statement.

Those responsible, he says, “must face appropriately serious consequences.”

Following his call with May Tuesday afternoon, a White House readout did not say the president agreed the Kremlin was responsible, but the statement did strike a more harmonious tone with the United States' closest ally.

"President Trump stated the United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally," a statement from the press secretary's office said.

"President Trump agreed with Prime Minister May that the Government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom."

"The two leaders agreed on the need for consequences for those who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms," the statement added.

Downing Street seemed content with Trump's continued support and shift in tone on Russian involvement – to the extent that the administration agreed that Russia must answer for the use of the chemical weapon in the attack.

“President Trump said the U.S. was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian Government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement.

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