Spelling it out: War of words over US-Russia relations

Florence Fletcher
July 22, 2018

Two letters and an apostrophe.That's what it all came down to.

US President Donald Trump met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a two-hour off-the-record meeting in Helsinki this week.

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Trump said he misspoke alongside Putin and actually meant to say the opposite of what he said - that he didn't see any reason why it "wouldn't" be Russian Federation who interfered in the election. The difference? Just two letters and an apostrophe.

The issue bubbled up again Wednesday, when Trump was asked by a reporter if Russian Federation was still trying to meddle in US elections, particularly the upcoming midterms.

This time the letters were "n" and "o".

Russia's ambassador to the US says Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump should continue to have direct contact after their summit this week.

Later, Trump tweeted that he has "great confidence" in US intelligence agencies but stressed the need to build strong relations between the nuclear powers.

There was more verbal drama at Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, when Trump was asked by a reporter if Russian Federation was still targeting the US.

The development followed growing criticisms over the Trump's relationship with Putin following their summit in Helsinki on Monday.

On Thursday, as the president tried to move on to domestic economic issues, the Russian Federation question was still drawing headlines around the world.

"I and the entire intel (ligence) community are committed to providing the best possible intelligence to inform and support President Trump's ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling in our upcoming elections, to build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace, denuclearize risky regimes and protect our nation and our allies", Coats added in his statement. He did not do so.

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Another Republican senator - John Thune of South Dakota - said having the translator give testimony was "highly unlikely". The president said on Tuesday that he accepted the USA intelligence community's conclusion that the meddling took place.

He did, however, tell CBS News this week that he holds Vladimir Putin responsible for election meddling.

A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the Russian leader, who has always been isolated by the West for activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election that sent Trump to the presidency. He also attacked his Democratic opponents and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and said he held both countries accountable for the state of their relations.

Climb-downs and clarifications are rare from President Trump and after a few days of both he returned to form later in the week, blaming the media for its coverage of the summit as opposed to blaming himself for any missteps.

Facing intense blowback for siding with Russia, Trump dug in and tweeted that "Fake News" was to blame for mischaracterising the summit.

However most of the press coverage has just been reporting facts and public statements, even if some of those statements were later corrected. However, on Tuesday, Trump claimed that he misspoke on the issue.

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During the same press conference, Trump praised Putin's "incredible offer" of a deal to swap interrogations.

It has prompted calls for the subpoenaing of the notes taken by the USA translator who was in the room at the time and even calls for her to testify before a congressional hearing.

Rosenstein last week announced that 12 Russian intelligence officials had been charged with computer hacking and other offences during the 2016 election.

The prospect sparked uproar, with U.S. senators voting to block the move. The White House had to come out and issue another clarification, insisting it would not be happening.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a security conference he's sure the ball "has been looked at very carefully". "That is going to be special".

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