‘I really believe that. … He means it’
Russian meddling question asked and answered, Trump says. And Putin’s denials of interference satisfy president.
DANANG, Vietnam — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he believed President Vladimir Putin was sincere in his denials of interference in the 2016 presidential elections, calling questions about Moscow’s meddling a politically motivated “hit job” that was hindering cooperation with Russia on life-or-death issues.
Speaking after meeting privately with Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Trump said he again had asked whether Russia had meddled in the contest but that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Putin.
Trump said it was time to move past the issue so that the United States and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, solving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine.
“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again,” Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for more meetings. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” ‘He is very insulted’
Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denials, but his account of the conversation indicated he was far more inclined to accept the Russian president’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Putin directed an elaborate effort to interfere in the vote. The CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all determined that Russia meddled in the election.
“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of Putin. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
His remarks came as the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia deepened, with disclosures over the past two weeks showing that there were more contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians than were previously known, and that senior campaign officials were aware of them.
And the comments inspired immediate ridicule from Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the election.
“You know who else is insulted by it, Mr. President? The American people,” Schiff said on Twitter. “You believe a foreign adversary over your own intelligence agencies.”
Rep. Ted Lieu, another California Democrat, called Trump “dumb as a rock.” Lieu wrote on Twitter that both he and Trump had seen classified information on Russia’s interference in the election, and that Trump’s comments were lies.
“Trump knows the Kremlin hacked America last year,” Lieu said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in response to Trump’s statements, “There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community.”
Trump heaped disdain on the former leaders of three U.S. intelligence agencies — John O. Brennan, the former CIA director; James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence; and James Comey, the FBI director he fired this year — appearing to suggest that they were less trustworthy than Putin.
“I mean, give me a break — they’re political hacks,” Trump said. “You have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey’s 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.”
The CIA on Saturday declined to comment on the remarks by Trump about Russian interference in the election. ‘People will die’
The president said lingering questions about whether his campaign aides had worked with Russia to sway the election were souring Washington’s relationship with Moscow on a host of vital security issues.
“Having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing,” Trump said. “This artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way, and that’s a shame, because people will die.”
The allegations of collusion are the subject of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, as well as multiple congressional inquiries.
Trump’s comments about the Russian president and his warning about deteriorating Moscow ties came after the close of the APEC conference in Danang, where the White House steered clear of a formal meeting between the two men and made a point of announcing Friday that one would not occur.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said President Donald Trump behaved “with the highest level of goodwill and correctness” at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam. “He is a cultured person.”