AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The White House is still on cleanup duty after President Trump's meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump was roundly criticized for that news conference Monday in which he appeared to go along with Putin's claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. Since then, Trump has said he accepts the findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did interfere. And this afternoon, the president was asked about that by CBS news anchor Jeff Glor.
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JEFF GLOR: But you haven't condemned Putin specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I would because he's in charge of the country just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes.
CHANG: All right, to talk more about all of this we've got NPR's Scott Horsley on the line, who joins us from the White House. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Ailsa, good to be with you.
CHANG: So Glor also asked the president what he said to Putin about election interference during their private two-hour meeting on Monday. How did Trump answer that question?
HORSLEY: He said that he'd given Putin a very strong warning against meddling in the 2018 election. But he also conceded such a warning might not be enough. After all, former President Obama gave Putin a stern warning in 2016 to no apparent effect. Earlier today, Trump created another headache for himself at least for a little while when he was asked after a Cabinet meeting if Russia is still targeting the U.S. And he appeared to say no, which would put him at odds with what the intelligence community's saying.
HORSLEY: Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, said just a few days ago that the warning lights for such an attack are blinking red. So once again we had the appearance of friction between the president and the intelligence community. But during a briefing this afternoon, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that's not the case. She said the president's no simply meant he wasn't taking any questions. Sanders insists that there's no daylight between Trump and the intelligence community, who are on the lookout for Russian election interference and, she says, doing what they can to prevent it.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's why we're taking steps to ensure that these things don't happen again. We wouldn't actually spend as much time and effort as we are if we didn't believe that they were still looking at us.
HORSLEY: Ailsa, I have to tell you there was considerable skepticism in the briefing room about that explanation. But the White House is still on the defensive this week when it comes to Russia, and Sanders acted pretty quickly here to try to tamp down this latest controversy.
CHANG: Now, Trump also said today that he's been tougher on Russia than any previous president. What do you make of that claim?
HORSLEY: It sounds like sort of typical Trumpian hyperbole, but some analysts I've talked with say it's not without foundation. There are things the White House can point to, steps this administration has taken that do take a tough approach to Russia. Some of those have been forced on them by Congress, but others are things the administration has done on its own.
They have expelled some 60 Russian intelligence agents in response to the suspected poisoning of that ex-Russian spy in Britain. They've sanctioned dozens of Russian oligarchs and government officials. They've loosened the rules of engagement in Syria, giving U.S. forces there more green lights to take action against Russian troops. And they've provided lethal weapons to Ukraine. So there are some tough measures the White House can point to.
CHANG: Yeah. But at the same time, Trump says he wants to have a warmer relationship with Vladimir Putin and hopes someday that they might even be friends. Is there a disconnect there between the president's rhetoric and his policies?
HORSLEY: There is. And remember; when Trump talks about inviting Russia back into the G-7 or bucks his advisers to congratulate the Russian president on his re-election in what was widely seen as a fraudulent vote, that says something about the U.S. So in foreign policy certainly action and policies count, but rhetoric counts, too.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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