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Trump backs US spies on Russia vote meddling

Manila, Sunday

US President Donald Trump appears to have rowed back on comments suggesting he believed the Russian president’s denials of meddling in the US election. He was widely criticised after saying Vladimir Putin had been insulted by the allegations of Russian interference.

On Sunday, Trump clarified that he supported US intelligence agencies, who have long concluded that Russia tried to sway the 2016 poll in his favour. He, however, slammed “fools” who oppose better ties with Moscow.

Key former Trump aides are under US investigation for possible collaboration with the Kremlin, and the issue of whether Moscow interfered with last year’s vote has overshadowed the tail end of the president’s Asia tour.

Trump returned to the subject in a Twitter storm in Vietnam, which also saw him take a sarcastic dig at North Korea’s “short and fat” leader Kim Jong-Un. At a press conference in Hanoi, Trump was asked to clarify comments he had made the day before about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Moscow had never tried to affect the US vote.

“I believe he feels he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said. “As to whether or not I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies. I believe in our…intelligence agencies,” he added. But in his barrage of tweets, Trump slammed “haters and fools” who questioned his efforts to improve ties with Russia. “There (sic) always playing politics – bad for our country.

I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!” he said. In May, US intelligence chiefs told Congress they agreed with their analysts’ conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election.

CIA director Mike Pompeo, who was appointed by Trump, said Saturday he still held to that evaluation. Trump’s tour of Asia, which moved to its final leg in Manila Sunday, has been dominated by the issue of North Korea and its ambitions to become a fully-fledged nuclear state.

His public pronouncements on Pyongyang over the last week have veered from denouncing it as a “cruel dictatorship” to offering a hand of friendship to Kim. On Sunday, his tone shifted back to one of hostility.

Citing descriptions by North Korean officials and state media of him as an “old” man, Trump suggested he was disappointed by what he took as a personal attack from the North’s young leader. “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would never call him “short and fat?” Trump wrote. -AFP

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