WASHINGTON — The White House Thursday addressed the joint intelligence report that found Russia had attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, more than five months after the report’s conclusions were made public. First, on Twitter, President Trump dismissed the concerns about Russia as a “big Dem HOAX” and suggested that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, did little to confront the problem. White House aides then clarified Trump’s remarks and said he believes there was Russian meddling but is certain it did not affect the outcome of the race.
Trump had previously suggested that the questions about Russia’s involvement in the election were overblown and “fake news.” As recently as Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer declined to answer a question at the White House briefing about whether Trump believes Russia interfered in the presidential race. Spicer said he and Trump had “not sat down and talked … about that specific thing.” Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, frequently deflect questions about contentious issues by saying they haven’t spoken to the president about them.
The public version of the intelligence community’s election assessment, which was released in January and was compiled by all 17 of America’s intelligence agencies, concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the campaign interference. According to the report, the Russian effort included email hacks on the campaign of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee. The agencies said information from those hacks was released to hurt the Democrats and boost Trump, but the report specified that it “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
On Thursday, shortly before Sanders was scheduled to hold a briefing, Trump sent out a series of tweets about Russian intervention where he described it as “a big Dem…