Trump tells Russia to quit ‘destabilizing’
WARSAW, Poland — On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to confront “new forms of aggression” targeting the West and called for Moscow to stop fomenting unrest around the world.
But he stopped short of condemning Russia for meddling in the U.S. election.
Buoyed by an electrified crowd of thousands in Poland chanting his name, Trump sought to show that he wasn’t overlooking Russian actions that have elicited global consternation, especially from nearby nations in eastern and central Europe. He warned that Western interests are being tested by “propaganda, financial crimes and cyberwarfare,” forcing NATO to adapt.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran, and to join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself,” Trump said in a speech in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square.
It was a critique that the president did not appear to extend to Russia’s actions last year during the presidential campaign. In a news conference before his speech, Trump questioned the veracity of American intelligence about foreign meddling in the U.S. election, arguing that Russia wasn’t the only country that may have interfered.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
As U.S. investigations into
Russia’s meddling forge ahead, Trump is under scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian leader ordered interference into the 2016 election that helped elect Trump to the White House.
From Poland, Trump took a short flight to Hamburg, Germany, where he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two shook hands and chatted casually but made no comments to reporters before their meeting.
Trump and Putin plan to sit down together today in Hamburg, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit of industrialized and developing economies. Asked in Poland whether he planned to discuss election meddling with Putin, Trump demurred.
But back in Washington, pressure was mounting from Trump’s critics in Congress for him to forcefully confront Putin.
California U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, urged Trump to “have the courage” to raise the election issue directly, while several Senate Democrats insisted Thursday in a letter to Trump that it would be a “severe dereliction” of Trump’s duties if he doesn’t.
Trump has avoided firmly blaming Moscow for campaign hacking in the past, and on Thursday, he was similarly elusive. He argued variably that it could have been Russia, probably was Russia and
indeed was Russia, while insisting that it could have been other countries, too, and adding: “I won’t be specific.”
The president instead accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of allowing Moscow to meddle on his watch. Though the Obama administration warned Russia publicly and privately before Election Day to stop interfering, questions have since been raised about whether Obama acted aggressively enough to stop the threat.
“They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.’”
Using information collected by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, the U.S. national intelligence director last year concluded that Moscow was behind the hack of Democratic Party email systems and attempted to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump. The Obama administration said the effort was directed from the “highest levels” of Russia’s government.
Driving home his message about uncertainty of whether Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 election and to what extent, Trump recalled the intelligence failures that preceded President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
“Everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Trump said. “They were wrong, and it led to a mess,” he said, referring to the Iraq War.
BOTH LASH OUT AT MEDIA
Trump used part of a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda to attack several U.S. news organizations for their coverage of his presidency. That elicited some sympathy from Duda, who suggested that he, too, was covered unfairly.
Trump lashed out at CNN and defended what he suggested was a lighthearted tweet of a video depicting him body-slamming a figure whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo.
“They have been fake news for a long time,” Trump said of CNN when asked about the tweet, adding that the network had been covering him in “a dishonest way.”
“We don’t want fake news,” he continued, as Duda nodded in agreement.
Duda’s center-right party, Law and Justice, proposed restricting the news media’s access to Parliament last year, but the government backed down after street protests.
Duda, responding to a U.S. reporter’s question about his own actions toward the media, blamed Polish journalists for intentionally distorting his record and for failing to include his positions in articles critical of his government.
Poland’s right-leaning populist nationalist government is a natural ally for Trump. The country’s Law and Justice Party has embraced some of the main pillars of Trump’s candidacy, including a similar resistance to accepting Muslim refugees into that country.
“While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will
always be closed to terrorism and extremism,” Trump said in his speech. “We cannot accept those who reject our values and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent.”
At the news conference, Trump praised Poland for aiding in the fight against the Islamic State. And in his public remarks, he suggested that the two nations’ shared position on refugees was not aimed at closing their respective borders but rather was an effort to protect their nations from extremism.
“We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory, their funding, their networks, and any form of ideological support,” Trump said.
Before his address to the Polish people, the president joined first lady Melania Trump for a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation. Crowds waving U.S. and Polish flags gathered near TV screens erected in the square to broadcast the visiting American’s speech.
A spokesman for the Warsaw police, Sylwester Marczak, said about 15,000 people attended Trump’s Krasinski Square speech.