Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Saturday in a meeting with President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that Russia did not meddle in the US election — and Trump said he believed him.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters from Air Force One. “I asked him again. 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.”
It is unclear who Trump meant when he said “they” — but the US intelligence agencies who examined the election meddling concluded in January that Putin ordered the interference to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told CNN that the leaders did not discuss Russian meddling.
Asked whether or not he believed Putin’s denial, Trump replied: “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the CIA, NSA, and FBI’s assessment of Russia’s interference, calling it a “hoax” that the Democrats have used to justify losing the election.
Putin similarly denied that Russia had interfered in the election when he met with Trump in July on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
The Russian leader “asked for proof and evidence” that Moscow was behind the hacks and disinformation campaign, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was present at the meeting, said at the time.
“President Trump has said that he has heard earlier declarations from Mr. Putin that Russian leadership and Russian government has not interfered in the elections,” Tillerson told reporters.
“And he accepts the things that Mr. Putin has said…not a single fact has been presented” that would prove allegations of Russian meddling, he added.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and three congressional committees are currently investigating Russia’s election interference and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
Trump fumed about the investigation aboard Air Force One on Saturday.
“There was no collusion. Everybody knows there was no collusion,” Trump said. “I think it’s a shame that something like that could destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are really important countries.”
He then called former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA director John Brennan, and former Director of Intelligence James Clapper “political hacks.”
“I mean, give me a break, they are political hacks,” Trump said, when asked about their assessment that Russia had interfered.