WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump again appeared to publicly contradict his own intelligence advisers — and former special counsel Robert Mueller — by expressing doubt about continued Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. political process.
"You don't really believe this. Do you believe this?" Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday as he prepared to leave for a political rally in Cincinnati.
The president was responding to a question about whether he raised the issue of ongoing Russian political interference during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said he did not broach the subject when he spoke on the phone with Putin on Wednesday.
“We didn't talk about that,” Trump said, and he went on to discuss his offer to help Putin with forest fires.
Trump appeared to be contradicting the assessment of his FBI director, Christopher Wray, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 23: "The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections."
U.S. intelligence officials have also said that Russia has never stopped its efforts to manipulate American public opinion through propaganda and social media, and that Russia is gearing up for a big push in the 2020 elections.
Wray also made clear he believed the Russians had not stopped their efforts, in answering a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman.
“Everything we’ve done against Russia has not deterred them enough?” Graham asked. “All the sanctions, all the talk, they’re still at it?”
Wray replied: “Yes. My view is until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough.”
An FBI spokesman had no immediate comment Friday morning to Trump's latest comments. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reacted to Trump's comments on Twitter.
"I don't know if the President is willfully ignorant or he just wants the help," Warner said.
In his testimony before the House last week, Mueller offered a stark warning when asked about what the Russians were up to.
“They’re doing it as we sit here,” he said.
Trump, speaking to reporters, was dismissive.
“I watched Mueller, I’m not sure Mueller knows what’s going on, if you want to know the truth,” he told reporters Thursday.