(CN) — President Donald Trump conceded Thursday, a day before his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but said other nations may have done so as well.
Speaking before a crowd of thousands in Warsaw, Poland, Trump said the United States and other Western nations are being tested by “propaganda, financial crimes and cyber warfare” as never before, and he called specifically on Moscow to stop meddling around the world..
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran, and to join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself,” Trump said.
But earlier, during, a press conference, the president soft-pedaled his critique of Russia, putting that other individuals and countries may have had a hand in the hacking and other meddling that occurred in 2016.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
As U.S. investigations into Russia’s meddling forge ahead, Trump is under intense scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the unpredictable Russia leader ordered interference into the 2016 election that brought Trump to the White House.
Trump and Putin plan to sit down together on Friday in Hamburg, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit of industrialized and developing economies. Asked, in Poland, whether he planned to discuss election meddling with Putin, Trump declined to answer.
Back in Washington, Calif. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, urged Trump to “have the courage” to raise the election issue directly, while several Senate Democrats insisted it would be a “severe dereliction” of Trump’s duties if he doesn’t.
If Trump was loathed to harshly criticize Putin on the eve of their meeting, he had no such reservations about lambasting President Barack Obama.
Though the Obama administration warned Russia publicly and privately before Election Day to stop interfering, questions have since been raised about whether he acted aggressively enough to stop the threat.
“They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked,” Trump said. “I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.'”