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Trump-Putin Summit Sets Off A Week Of Reaction And Damage Control

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're going to focus our entire program on one subject today - President Trump's relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin. And we know we're taking a bit of a risk here. We know some people may think they've heard enough about it. We know some may think this is partisan. We know some may just say this is the weekend, I want to hear about the movies or other fun topics.

We're going to go back to other stories tomorrow, including a new movie we think you want to hear about. But at the end of what may be one of the most consequential weeks of this presidency, what may be one of the most consequential weeks for U.S. diplomacy in decades, we feel it's important to take a look back to take stock of what we know and what we don't yet know about what happened and why. So let's do a quick review.

Let's start on Monday, when President Trump appeared with Vladimir Putin to face the media after a two-hour meeting staffed only by their interpreters. Now, remember, this is just days after 12 Russian military intelligence officers were indicted by a U.S. grand jury for their role in stealing and disseminating information from political targets during the 2016 election. Putin denied it. At a joint press conference after the summit, President Trump was asked who he believed - Putin or U.S. intelligence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: My first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe? My second question is, would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin - would you denounce what happened in 2016, and would you warn him to never do it again?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server - why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months, and I've been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it's Russia. 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.

MARTIN: After nearly 24 hours of criticism, President Trump said he misspoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It should have been obvious. I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn't. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

MARTIN: The next day in a Cabinet meeting at the White House, the president was asked if Russia is still targeting the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, no.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Press, let's go. Make your way out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, you don't believe that to be the case?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Let's go.

MARTIN: The president was overheard saying, no, and press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked later to clarify that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Earlier, Cecilia asked the president, is Russia still targeting the U.S.? He said, no. Is that what the president actually believes? Did he understand the question? And is his position that, no, Russia is not doing anything to interfere or meddle in the 2018 election?

SARAH SANDERS: I got a chance to speak with the president after his comments. And the president was - said, thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions. The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections, as they have done in the past and as we have stated.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Sarah...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: So, he does believe it's going on?

SANDERS: Well, since there is currently not an election today, not specifically. But we certainly believe that we are taking steps to make sure they can't do it again, unlike previous administrations. This president is actually taking bold action and reform to make sure it doesn't happen again. But he does believe that they would target certainly U.S. elections again.

MARTIN: Top officials in the U.S. intelligence agencies have been consistent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.

MARTIN: That's FBI director Christopher Wray. And here's director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN COATS: It's undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this. Basically, they are the ones that are trying to undermine our basic values and divide us with our allies. They are the ones that are trying to wreak havoc over our election process. We need to call them out on that. It's critical that we do so then take steps to make sure that they are not able to do this with the election coming up.

MARTIN: Shortly after making those comments before a live audience at the Aspen Security Forum, NBC's Andrea Mitchell told Dan Coats this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREA MITCHELL: We have some breaking news. The White House has announced on Twitter that Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall.

COATS: Say that again.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL: You - Vladimir Putin, coming...

COATS: Did I hear you? Did I hear you?

MITCHELL: Yeah. Yeah.

COATS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

COATS: That's going to be special.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.