Trump: I believe Putin’s denials
Bashes ex-U.S. officials for saying Moscow meddled in ’16
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?’ ”
Trump said he had “two or three very short conversations” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam.