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Video by Associated Press(Bloomberg) — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged on Tuesday that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 elections but said the efforts didn’t play a role in President Donald Trump’s victory.
“It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election. It’s also very clear Russia didn’t have an impact on the election,” Sanders said at a briefing today. “And it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place.”
The president spent much of the holiday weekend tweeting about the Russia investigation after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals on charges that they carried out a multimillion-dollar operation to depress support for Democrat Hillary Clinton and boost backing for Trump in the 2016 election.
Trump was criticized for not speaking out against Russia after the indictment. He instead focused on comments by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that the indictment didn’t contain evidence that Trump’s campaign willingly collaborated with Russian efforts. He also rebuked his national security adviser for not defending the legitimacy of his election.
Sanders said Tuesday that Trump has acknowledged several times that Russia attempted to interfere with the U.S. elections. She also echoed another tweet by Trump over the weekend, in which he claimed to have been “much tougher on Russia than Obama.”
Sanders hinted the administration would soon reveal action it had taken against Russia, saying “an incident” will be “reported in coming days, another way that the president was tough on Russia.”
During the weekend, Trump also promoted a Fox News report featuring a “great timeline of all of the failures the Obama administration had against Russia.” He reiterated his complaints that Russian meddling was an “excuse” by Democrats for losing the presidential election and claimed he “never said Russia did not meddle in the election.”
“The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!” the president wrote.
Trump’s previous statements contradict Mueller’s findings. In a 2016 interview with Time Magazine, Trump said he didn’t believe Russia interfered in the election; he also told Fox News that month he didn’t believe CIA conclusions that the Russians wanted to boost his chances.
In November, Trump said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin when the Russian leader claimed he wasn’t responsible for meddling in the election, though at other points the president has said he believed Russia — or other countries — may be responsible for hacking activities related to the election.
The president also took aim at his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who told an audience at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that Russia had engaged in a “sophisticated form of espionage” against the U.S.
“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump tweeted in reference to Hillary Clinton.
Sanders said Trump retained confidence in McMaster.
“He said that he liked the general’s answer, but just thought that little addendum would be helpful to add,” Sanders said.
Trump also reprimanded the FBI, saying the bureau overlooked advance warnings about the suspect in the Feb. 14 Florida school massacre because it was too busy investigating him.
“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud,” Trump tweeted.
Pressed about that comment, Sanders said the president didn’t intend to blame the FBI for the shooting.
“I think he’s making the point, we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the trump campaign and its involvement,” Sanders said.
A person with knowledge of Mueller’s probe said last week the special counsel hadn’t concluded his investigation into whether Trump or his associates helped Russian efforts to interfere in the election, despite the president’s aides stressing Friday’s indictment showed no willing collaboration.