‘I re­ally be­lieve that. … He means it’

Rus­sian med­dling ques­tion asked and an­swered, Trump says. And Putin’s de­nials of in­ter­fer­ence sat­isfy pres­i­dent.

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SUNDAY MORNING - By Julie Hirschfeld Davis NEW YORK TIMES

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.

Jorge Silva / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.”

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