Politics

Trump, Putin Address Election Meddling Charges in Helsinki

Russian president denies what U.S. agencies have concluded he ordered

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive on Air Force One at Helsinki International Airport on Sunday for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Updated 11:26 a.m. | Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the Helsinki summit “a success” and a “very fruitful round of negotiations,” but he said he denied any involvement in meddling in the last U.S. election when pressed by President Donald Trump.

Putin also said he hopes stabilizing Syria could be an example of increased “joint work” between his country and the Trump administration.

“The Cold War is a thing of the past,” Putin said, speaking first during a joint press conference. He called on Moscow and Washington to warm a period of frosty relations, largely because of the sizes of their nuclear arsenals.

The Russian leader told reporters Trump did bring up what the U.S. intelligence community has concluded was meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and he again denied any involvement.

Putin said the Russian delegation gave the U.S. team a letter laying out specific ways the countries could draw down their nuclear arsenals. And he expressed concerns over Trump withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear pact.

Speaking after Putin, Trump said he “directly addressed Russian interference in our elections,” adding,  “President Putin may very well want to address it. He feels very strongly about it and has an interesting idea," without elaborating. Earlier, Putin said the United States and Russia should work jointly on cybersecurity.

Earlier Monday, Trump said his talks with Putin got off to a “very good start for everybody” after the two met privately for two hours.

His assessment came at the start of a working lunch with aides from both sides, but journalists were ushered out of the room before Trump could give them details about what the two leaders discussed in private. The Russian president glanced at the reporters and photographers, but did not say a word as he sat at the rectangular lunch table at the presidential palace in Helsinki, Finland.

The pair were scheduled to meet one-on-one for just 90 minutes, but appeared to do so for around two hours. Last week, Trump predicted a short private meeting, saying his business experience taught him the longer talks stretch, the worse they are going. 

Earlier, he kicked off his meeting with Putin by listing topics they will discuss privately, but he did not mention Moscow’s campaign to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election.

“It’s great to be with you,” Trump told his Russian counterpart — who showed up an hour late in keeping with his typical treatment of world leaders — as they sat side-by-side and shook hands.

Trump said Friday he would talk directly to Putin about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, but mockingly told reporters it is their favorite topic and that he doubted he would produce a “Perry Mason” moment in which Putin admitted to being involved.

[Trump Sets Notably Low Bar for Putin Summit]

Trump did mention trade, China, nuclear arms reduction and other security matters as ones he intended to discuss first in the one-on-one session then in another meeting that will include staff from both sides. Notably, he also mentioned a desire to discuss Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump also failed to mention Syria and Ukraine, two topics he said on Friday that he intended to discuss with Putin.

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“I think the world wants us to get along,” Trump said, in large part because of the size of the countries’ nuclear arsenals, which the U.S. president indicated he would like to make progress on reducing.

In an interview published Sunday in the UK and aired on Monday before the summit, Trump said he and Putin “could probably get along very well.”

“Somebody said are you friends or enemies? I said well it’s too early to say but right now I say we’re competitors but for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places…. Piers that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing,” Trump told interviewer Piers Morgan.

Asked if Putin was among the “ruthless” leaders the U.S. president there are plenty of in the world, Trump responded “I can’t tell you that, I assume he probably is. But I could name others, also.”

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Trump expressed regret as the two leaders sat beside one another that U.S.-Russia relations have been souring for “close to two years.” Earlier Monday, however, he deflected blame for that even though his administration has sanctions Russian entities — including intelligence agencies and individuals with ties to Putin — for the tensions.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he tweeted, referring to the Justice Department’s election meddling probe being led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller.

Adding to the intrigue surrounding the summit, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted its agreement.

In an earlier tweet, Trump accused former President Barack Obama of doing “NOTHING” about the Russian meddling because he “thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election.”

That statement, however, is false. Obama ordered an intelligence investigation and spoke to Putin about what the U.S. government determined Russia was up to. In his final press conference as president in December 2016, Obama told reporters he personally told Putin to “cut it out.”

 

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