U.S. President Donald Trump, receives a soccer ball from Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Trump Campaign Manager Won’t Say If President Believes Putin

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager declined to say whether the president believes Vladimir Putin was involved in Russian interference in the 2016 election, adding to the confusion from Trump’s team in the wake of a widely panned summit in Helsinki.

“You would have to ask him what he believes or doesn’t believe,” Brad Parscale said Tuesday in an interview recorded for Bloomberg Television in Sonoma, California.

Parscale also declined to say whether he personally agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies that have concluded the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 race with the intent to help Trump.

“I’m not going to get into what I believe,” he said. “My job is to support the president. And you would have to go ask him on that one.”

On Monday, Trump came under a torrent of criticism from Democrats and Republicans for siding with Putin over his own intelligence community by casting doubt on U.S. findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. During a summit with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, Trump said the Russian president had been “extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”

On Tuesday, shortly after Bloomberg Television’s interview with Parscale was recorded, Trump partially retreated from his Helsinki remarks. He said he misspoke a day earlier and that he does in fact believe the intelligence community’s findings, though he immediately equivocated.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday, but added: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

Attack on Clinton

Parscale, who was the digital director during Trump’s 2016 campaign, denied any campaign involvement with the Kremlin efforts. He said he did not have an explanation for why Russian hackers allegedly tried to steal emails from Hillary Clinton on the same day Trump made a public appeal for Russian interference.

Indictments last week from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation said that Russians tried to hack into servers used by Clinton’s personal office on July 27, 2016 -- the same day that Trump publicly called on Russia to try to “find the 33,000 emails that are missing.”

“You would have to ask him that one on timing,” Parscale said. “Sometimes things align, but I don’t know.”

Parscale has been openly critical of Mueller’s investigation, even as it has piled up indictments and guilty pleas from Trump associates and Russian operatives.

“Time to fire Sessions. End the Mueller investigation. You can’t obstruct something that was phony against you,” Parscale tweeted last month, with a reference to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Parscale has testified in closed-door interviews before congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the election.

Some lawmakers have called Parscale an important figure in inquiries into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, though he has insisted he knew nothing about Russia’s efforts. Parscale’s role included working with Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that collapsed after revelations about its harvesting and use of personal data.

Parscale said Tuesday that he has not been contacted by Mueller.

Facebook and Twitter

The campaign chief also accused Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. of having liberal bias, saying such prejudices “probably go into every line of code they write and everything they do.”

Parscale said Facebook is trying to address the bias, but he wasn’t sure if doing so would be possible.

Facebook said it does not discriminate based on political beliefs.

“Facebook was built to give people a voice, regardless of their political beliefs,” the company said in a statement. “You choose who you’re friends with, what you share and the pages you follow. And that choice is at the heart of everything you see on Facebook.”

Parscale said that Trump’s 2020 campaign has already begun using YouTube more than it did in 2016, a trend he expects to continue as users migrate from television to online video.

“I do think that YouTube will play a larger role than it did in 2016,” in the Trump campaign’s digital efforts, he said. “We’re going to monitor where eyes are going. And I think YouTube continues, and Google continues, to work on that platform and make improvements.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.