President Trump said Wednesday in his only public appearance in the U.S. this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin would have preferred Hillary Clinton as president because she would have made America weaker.
In an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, Mr. Trump tried to debunk claims that Russia wanted to help him win the election last year. He said that conclusion is illogical because Mr. Putin presumably wants weak leadership in Washington.
“We are the most powerful country in the world, and we are getting more and more powerful because I’m a big military person,” Mr. Trump said. “As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That’s what Putin doesn’t like about me. And that’s why I say, why would he want me? Because from Day One, I wanted a strong military. He doesn’t want to see that.”
Mr. Trump’s comments, to be broadcast on “The 700 Club” on Thursday night, constituted his lone appearance in the U.S. after four days of isolation as the latest furor erupted over suspected collusion with Russia, this time involving his eldest son, Donald Jr. The president hadn’t been seen publicly since returning from a European summit Saturday night, and he departed the U.S. again Wednesday evening for France to attend a Bastille Day celebration.
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr. Trump has held meetings this week with top economic advisers on trade and with other officials on cybersecurity. She rejected a suggestion that he was being secretive.
“There’s nothing secret about having meetings … with members of his staff or members of the administration,” Mrs. Sanders told reporters. “The president had an incredibly robust schedule overseas in both Poland and Germany. And he’s preparing to leave [for France]; he’s spending quite a bit of time with a lot of those of you who are traveling.”
She noted that Mr. Trump will hold a news conference Thursday in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Still, the revelations this week that Mr. Trump’s son sought dirt on Mrs. Clinton from a Russian lawyer during the election campaign have renewed concern among congressional Republicans that the Russia sideshow is again sidetracking Mr. Trump’s agenda of tax reform and health care legislation to repeal Obamacare.
“This drip, drip, drip is undermining the credibility of this administration,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Mrs. Sanders responded, “I think it’s undermining the credibility of the media.”
“Bill Clinton was paid half a million dollars to give a speech to a Russian bank, personally thanked by President Putin,” she said. “Hillary Clinton allowed one-fifth of America’s uranium reserve to be sold to a Russian firm whose investors were Clinton Foundation donors. The Clinton campaign chairman’s brother lobbied against sanctions on Russia’s largest bank and failed to report it. I think if we’re looking at Russia relations with anybody, it would be directly with the Clintons.”
But she acknowledged that the president is frustrated.
“The president wants to be focused on his agenda,” Mrs. Sanders said. “He’d much rather be talking about health care, tax reform, infrastructure, national security. That’s his focus. When we talk about those things, it’s a good day for all Americans.”
Asked why the president wasn’t talking to the public about those issues, she said, “He’s been talking about those internally.”
Mr. Trump did take to Twitter in earnest Wednesday, saying he is not distracted by cable news.
“The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I have very little time for watching T.V.”
The president was responding to reports that he is fuming about media coverage of his eldest son. On the heels of the younger Trump’s revelations, there are reports of renewed infighting among White House aides and concern from the president’s advisers about the political damage.
Mr. Trump also retweeted a Washington Times article about Democrats having willfully used Russian disinformation to attack him during the campaign.
In his interview with Mr. Robertson, the president also hit back at the Russia allegations by saying his energy policies are far more threatening to Russia’s economy than Mrs. Clinton’s clean energy plans would have been.
“From Day One, I want fracking and everything else to get energy prices low and to create tremendous energy,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to be self-supporting; we just about are now. We’re going to be exporting energy. [Mr. Putin] doesn’t want that. He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills. He would much rather have that because energy prices would go up, and Russia, as you know, relies very much on energy.”
During his trip to Poland last week, Mr. Trump promoted U.S. energy exports and encouraged central and eastern European nations to reduce their reliance on Russian oil and gas.
Mr. Trump said of Mrs. Clinton, “There are many things that I do that are the exact opposite of what he would want. So what I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think ‘probably not,’ because when I want a strong military, you know she wouldn’t have spent the money on military. When I want tremendous energy, we’re opening up coal, we’re opening up natural gas, we’re opening up fracking, all the things that he would hate, but nobody ever mentions that.”
After months of circling each other, Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump held their first face-to-face meeting last week at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Mr. Trump said his core goals are different from the Russian’s.
“Well, he wants what’s good for Russia, and I want what’s good for the United States,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think in a case like Syria where we can get together, do a cease-fire, and there are many other cases where getting along can be a very positive thing. But always Putin is going to want Russia and Trump is going to want the United States, and that’s the way it is.”
He said their meeting, which lasted more than two hours, produced a cease-fire in an area of Syria that has held for several days.
“So, that was a great thing that came out of that meeting,” Mr. Trump said. “I think a lot of things came out of that meeting, but I do believe it’s important to have a dialogue. And if you don’t have a dialogue, it’s a lot of problems for our country and for their country. I think we need dialogue. We need dialogue with everybody.”
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