Some in Valley skeptical of Trump's backpedaling on meddling

By David Skolnick


President Donald Trump’s assertion that he misspoke when he dismissed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was only done because he felt pressure from his administration to do so, a Youngstown State University professor said.

“Trump often says one thing and then says something different the next day,” said Michael Jerryson, a YSU associate professor of religious studies who specializes in religious politics. “He can say what he wants, but what are his actions? What are his prior actions in Moscow?”

Jerryson said people shouldn’t be surprised by Trump.

Democrats and some Republicans expressed outrage Monday over comments Trump made during a joint news conference with Russian leader Vladmir Putin after the Helsinki summit.

Trump, a Republican, said Monday: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

On Tuesday, Trump backtracked and said he meant to say he didn’t see any reason why it “wouldn’t” be Russia.

“It’s unfathomable,” said Bill Binning, former YSU political science department chairman. “I personally don’t understand what he’s doing. Politically, there’s a lot of questions about why he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Binning, a former Mahoning County Republican Party chairman, said he is “shocked” by Trump’s actions.

“He seems to be taking up with longstanding global opponents,” he said. “We don’t know why. It’s disturbing.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, said Russia interfered in the American election.

“It’s not a matter of question, it’s a matter of fact,” he said.

Portman said Trump’s statement Tuesday was something he should have said a day earlier.

He also sounded somewhat skeptical of Trump.

The Monday news conference comments “didn’t seem like it was one or two words. It sounded like a general tone,” Portman said.

Tracey Winbush, Trump’s Mahoning County campaign chairwoman, defended the president.

“Public pressure is why he’s walking it back,” she said. “I would have told him to stand his ground.”

Winbush said the journalist “asked a gotcha question. There were more important things to ask than Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. I thought the question was petty and very shallow.”

She added: “It wasn’t President Trump’s place to say Putin was wrong. To call the man a liar with him standing there wouldn’t have won anyone brownie points. He couldn’t have answered that question. It wouldn’t have been prudent to call Putin a liar in that press conference.”

County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe also defended the president.

“President Trump continues to confound the Democrats, the media and even some Republicans who just can’t get used to how Trump operates,” Munroe said. “Rather than focusing on what Trump says, which is sometimes not politically correct speech, we should focus on what he has done. President Obama was warned about Russian meddling back in September of 2016 and did nothing. Trump has expelled Russian diplomats, imposed sanctions, and has gotten NATO to commit to billions more in defense spending.”

He added: “Trump has now made it clear he accepts the findings of U.S. intel, but his skepticism is not surprising given the continued drumbeat of unproven charges of collusion with the Russians. Trump promised during the campaign to do everything possible to keep America safe. Establishing dialogue with North Korea and Russia are an important part of that effort. His critics want to see him just go away, but Trump has proven time and time again that if you bet against him, you probably have a losing hand.”

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