President Trump today said that Russian President Vladimir Putin denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. election — and said that he found that denial persuasive.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.
This is a familiar script.
Trump has met with Putin twice before, and after both meetings, had similar comments — Putin said he didn’t do it, and Trump believed him.
The two presidents’ first meeting occurred during the G-20 summit last year in Germany. According to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson said.
But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in a separate press conference, cast some doubt on how “robust and lengthy” that exchange was — and said Trump “accepts” Putin statements that Russia did not meddle in the election.
“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements,” Lavrov said, according to a translation by CNN. “That’s all.”
Trump went on to have further, undisclosed conversations with Putin during the G-20, and, a few days later, tweeted that the two leaders were considering teaming up to form “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last year, but the two did speak on the sidelines of the summit three times.
After the summit, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had raised the issue of election meddling with Putin. “He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” he continued. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
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