Donald Trump finally admitted that Russia helped elected him president—before immediately retracting it.
In an ill-tempered series of tweets sent Thursday morning, he said he “had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”
With reporters jumping on the fresh admission as Trump appeared on the White House lawn almost immediately afterward, the president contradicted himself, saying: “Russia did not help me get elected... Russia didn’t help me at all.”
The Twitter rant came a day after the special counsel appeared to encourage Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against him.
Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Most memorably, he sided with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence services when the two held a press conference together in Helsinki in June 2018.
Standing next to the Russian president and asked if he’d rebuked Putin over the interference, Trump said: “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be. I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
On Thursday morning, the clearly irritated president wrote: “Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax... And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn’t exist.”
In comments to reporters on the White House lawn minutes later, Trump walked it back. “You know who got me elected? I got me elected,” he said. “Russia didn’t help me at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.”
Before the apparent acknowledgement, Trump had denied Russian involvement many times.
In an interview with Time magazine shortly after the election in November 2016, Trump said of Russia: “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.”
After another meeting with Putin in November 2017, Trump said, “Every time [Putin] sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe—I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth. Don’t forget, all he said is he never did that, he didn’t do that. I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller reiterated Wednesday that Russia did meddle in the 2016 election, closing his press comments by saying “There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Mueller also said he couldn’t charge Trump because of a Justice Department policy that forbids indictment of a sitting president—a statement that was widely interpreted as an invitation for Congress to impeach Trump.
At Thursday’s impromptu press conference, Trump said impeachment was a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word,” and said he’d carried out “no high crime and there was no misdemeanor.”