Trump maintains Russian interference in 2020 election is about Sanders, not his reelection

As questions about Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election continue to loom over both the president’s reelection campaign and the Democratic primary, President Donald Trump on Tuesday again denied that he’s receiving help from Russia, stressing he doesn’t want any assistance from any foreign powers.

“First of all, I want no help from any country, and I haven’t been given help from any country,” Trump told reporters Tuesday, despite his telling less than a year ago ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that he would accept damaging information against his 2020 rivals.

For the better part of a week, the White House has maintained that the president was not personally briefed on the intelligence community’s reported findings that Russia is again delivering a misinformation campaign aimed at helping Trump win reelection.

During a news conference in New Delhi, Trump again said “nobody ever told me” Russia is helping his campaign and again pointed at his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who joined Trump on his trip to India, to validate his denial.

On Sunday, on ABC’s “This Week,” O’Brien also denied that he or Trump have been briefed that Russia is meddling in the election to help the president.

“We have Ambassador O’Brien in the audience. He can tell you that this was never discussed with us,” Trump said. “So I think it’s terrible. They ought to stop the leaking from Intelligence Committee.”

At the news conference, Trump again accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of leaking classified information from a briefing the administration gave the committee earlier this month, where Shelby Pierson, a senior election security official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers that Russia is spreading disinformation on social media aimed at helping Trump win another four years in office this fall.

“I think it was leaks from the Intelligence Committee, House version. And I think that they leaked it, I think probably Schiff leaked, and some people within there,” Trump said, repeating an unfounded allegation he first cast on Sunday as he departed the White House for the two-day trip abroad. “Schiff leaked it, in my opinion, and he shouldn’t be leaking things like that.”

While denying Russia is helping his own campaign, Trump has instead seized on reports that Russia is helping Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders win the party’s nomination.

He’s focused on reports that some Democrats are concerned about Sanders’ surging candidacy, charging that the Democratic establishment is working to keep the self-described democratic socialist from locking up nomination.

“He has a head of steam and they maybe don’t want him, for obvious reasons. So they don’t want him, so they put out a thing that Russia is backing him. This is what [Democrats] do,” Trump said following reports Russia is boosting Sanders in the Vermont senator’s quest for the Democratic nomination. “I have gone through it for a long time. I get it. I get the game better than anybody. And that’s the way it is.”

The conflicting accounts have created competing narratives about who Russia is helping, although it’s possible that Russia’s social media blitz is pumping up both Trump and Sanders.

After three top Senate Democrats urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to sanction Russia over its 2020 election interference, Pompeo condemned election interference, though he expressed doubt on whether Russia is actively interfering.

While he did not announce any new penalties against Russia, Pompeo said election meddling is “unacceptable” and the administration “will always work to protect the integrity of our elections, period, full stop.”

“Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department Tuesday.

Pompeo has consistently downplayed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, saying Moscow has interfered in U.S. presidential elections for decades or — as he did today — saying it’s not unique to America, with Russian agents “sowing division and distrust” among many countries’ citizens, “from Belarus to Zimbabwe.”

Pompeo said he warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against Russian interference in U.S. elections when they met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 14.

ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report

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