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Kelly lobbied Republicans to rebuke Trump after Putin press conference: report

The Hill logo The Hill 7/18/2018 Emily Birnbaum
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White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly gave GOP lawmakers the green light to rebuke President Trump's controversial remarks from his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Three sources told Vanity Fair on the condition of anonymity that Kelly was furious after Trump stood with Putin during their summit in Helsinki and sided with his denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump sparked major backlash among U.S. lawmakers and the intelligence community by siding with Putin's denial instead of the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did intervene in an effort to help Trump win.

Trump also blamed special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation for keeping the U.S. and Russia "separate."

Kelly told Trump that his remarks might worsen the situation with Mueller, according to Vanity Fair, which reported that the chief of staff then called Republicans on Capitol Hill and told them they could publicly speak out against Trump's comments.

It's unclear who anonymously spoke to Vanity Fair for its report, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

GOP lawmakers have largely criticized Trump's performance in Helsinki - even those who do not typically split with the president.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Trump's statements "shameful" and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they were a "sign of weakness."

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said it was wrong to draw a moral equivalence between Russia and the U.S., and insisted the intelligence community is correct in its assessment of Russian interference.

Kelly has stood by the president through other bouts of intense public criticism, but sources told Vanity Fair this was different. They attributed Trump's quick rollback partially to Kelly's response.

Trump on Tuesday tried to walk back his remarks, claiming he misspoke when he said he didn't see "any reason that it would be" Russia that interfered.

"I would like to clarify, in a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' " Trump said. "The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' "

Trump also said Tuesday that he believes Russia interfered in the presidential election, but again muddied the waters by repeating a claim he has made previously that other parties could have also interfered.

Former Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller noted to Vanity Fair that a 24-hour turnaround is abnormal for Trump.

"Any of these other kerfuffles, if he had addressed it the next day, we wouldn't have had that many days of things, like 'shithole countries,' " Miller said.

Kelly is reportedly preparing to leave the White House as early as this summer, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

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