Trump: I be­lieve Putin’s de­nials

Bashes ex-U.S. of­fi­cials for say­ing Moscow med­dled in ’16

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Noah Bier­man noah.bier­man@la­times.com

DA NANG, Viet­nam — With new de­tails emerg­ing about con­tacts be­tween Rus­sian of­fi­cials and ad­vis­ers to his 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump again de­clined to press con­cerns about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the elec­tion last year with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin while the two lead­ers met Satur­day in Viet­nam.

“Ev­ery time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ ” Trump said aboard Air Force One while trav­el­ing be­tween Da Nang and Hanoi dur­ing his Asian trip. “And I be­lieve, I re­ally be­lieve that when he tells me that. He means it.”

Trump in­stead lashed out at for­mer U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials who sounded the alarm about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, in­clud­ing for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan, for­mer Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per and for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, whom Trump fired this year.

“They’re po­lit­i­cal hacks,” Trump said. “Comey is proven now to be a liar, and he’s proven to be a leaker. So you look at that. And you have Pres­i­dent Putin very strongly, ve­he­mently says he had noth­ing to do with that.”

U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies al­ready have con­cluded that Rus­sia en­gaged in a cam­paign to in­flu­ence the elec­tion, hack­ing into Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee emails that later were leaked and us­ing a va­ri­ety of on­line tools to spread fake news and other pro­pa­ganda.

And, in a state­ment is­sued Satur­day, the CIA and its di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, said that the agency “stands by and has al­ways stood by the Jan­uary 2017 In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity As­sess­ment en­ti­tled: As­sess­ing Rus­sian Ac­tiv­i­ties and In­ten­tions in Re­cent U.S. Elec­tions.”

Trump’s com­ments came after days of equiv­o­ca­tion from the White House over whether Trump would meet with Putin. Both men were in Da Nang to at­tend the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit.

Trump said he had “two or three very short con­ver­sa­tions” with Putin over the past two days to dis­cuss Syria. They is­sued a joint state­ment Satur­day promis­ing fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion in seek­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the coun­try’s civil war.

Mean­while, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial col­lu­sion be­tween the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and Trump’s cam­paign is reach­ing a new stage. Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, was charged last month with money laun­der­ing and con­spir­acy, and a sec­ond for­mer aide, Richard Gates, also was charged in the in­dict­ment, though none of those charges were re­lated to al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling.

It was an­nounced that same day that Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, a for­eign pol­icy ad­viser for the cam­paign who worked to set up con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI and has been co­op­er­at­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

In Viet­nam, Trump said Putin told him he “ab­so­lutely did not med­dle in our elec­tion.”

“Look, I can’t stand there and ar­gue with him. I’d rather have him get out of Syria” and “work with him on the Ukraine,” Trump said.

“That whole thing was set up by the Democrats,” Trump said, though it was un­clear whether he was blam­ing Democrats for Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence or for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his cam­paign’s pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with the Rus­sians.

Trump also raised the med­dling is­sue with Putin in July, dur­ing the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many, yield­ing sim­i­lar re­sults. Putin came away from the meet­ing say­ing Trump was “sat­is­fied” with his de­nials. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son told a dif­fer­ent ver­sion, say­ing the two coun­tries may have “an in­tractable dis­agree­ment” over the is­sue.

Trump said Satur­day that he and Putin “have a good feel­ing to­ward get­ting things done” and that a stronger re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia “would be a great thing, not a bad thing.”

He said China has been more help­ful than Rus­sia in ef­forts to con­tain North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram. He said Putin is in­sulted by ac­cu­sa­tions of med­dling and blamed “the lack of a re­la­tion­ship that we have with Rus­sia be­cause of this ar­ti­fi­cial thing that’s hap­pen­ing with this Demo­cratic-in­spired thing.” At an­other point, he called the Rus­sian col­lu­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion an “ar­ti­fi­cial Demo­cratic hit job.”

Re­spond­ing to cri­ticism that he had not raised hu­man rights is­sues on his trip through Asia as strongly as his pre­de­ces­sors, Trump also as­serted that he had, “but I also raise is­sues on many other things.”

And he said that while meet­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping last week, he “very briefly” raised the is­sue of open­ing China to Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms now cen­sored in the coun­try. But the pres­i­dent said he was more fo­cused on trade and North Korea.

In re­la­tion to hiss own so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity, Trump sent a tweet from Hanoi, where he trav­eled for a brief state visit Sun­day, in which he bashed the “haters and fools” ques­tion­ing his ef­forts to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia and ac­cused crit­ics of hurt­ing the coun­try.

In a re­sponse to North Korea call­ing Trump’s speech in South Korea “reck­less re­marks by an old lu­natic,” Trump also tweeted: “Why would Kim Jong-un in­sult me by call­ing me o`ld,' when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ ”

MIKHAIL KLI­MEN­TYEV/GETTY-AFP

Trump said he had “two or three very short con­ver­sa­tions” with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Viet­nam.

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