President Trump emerged from his historic summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, saying he doesn’t “see any reason” to think that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Putin following their meetings. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
But Putin himself acknowledged that he preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton in the election. “Yes I did,” he said. “Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
Putin told reporters that Trump raised the issue of “so-called” election interference in their one-on-one talks.
“The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs including election process,” Putin said through a translator. “Any specific material, if such things arise, we are willing to analyze together.”
Putin’s denial, and Trump’s seeming acceptance of it, flies in the face of the conclusions by six top U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. In early January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report concluding with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.” Putin’s goals, the report said, were to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency” — and to boost Trump’s election chances.
President Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands after their joint news conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. (Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via Reuters)
Trump said that while he has “great confidence” in U.S. intelligence agencies, he wants to know what happened to the emails missing from Hillary Clinton’s private email server, the Democratic National Committee server and those of a DNC staffer.
“What happened to the servers of the Pakastani gentleman that worked on the DNC?” Trump asked. “Where are those servers?”
Trump was referring to a conspiracy theory he and conservative media outlets have pushed that congressional technology staffer Imran Awan was a Pakastani operative who worked with House Democrats to steal government secrets. Earlier this month federal prosecutors charged Awan with making a false claim on a loan application but cleared him of violating any law related to the House computer systems.
“Where are Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three-thousand emails gone, just gone,” Trump said. “I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”
On Friday, three days, 12 Russian intelligence officials were indicted by a grand jury convened by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in connection with the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s computer server and subsequent leaking of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. During the summit, Putin said he would “look into” the charges, and offered to help U.S. investigators. Trump called it “an incredible offer.”
On Monday, Putin also suggested the United States and Russia form a “joint working group on cybersecurity” — something both he and Trump discussed on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last year. At that time, Trump appeared to backtrack on the idea.
“The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen,” Trump tweeted on July 9, 2017. “It can’t.”
This time, though, Trump called it “an interesting idea.”
Earlier Monday, Trump and Putin met for a private discussion — with each accompanied only by their translators — that lasted nearly two hours. The pair then met for an expanded hourlong working lunch with top aides.
Prior to their one-on-one sitdown, Trump expressed optimism that the talks would lead to “an extraordinary relationship” between Washington and Moscow.
“I think we have great opportunities together as two countries that, frankly, have not been getting along very well for the last number of years,” Trump said.
In the run-up to Monday’s meeting, Trump blamed the tensions between the two countries, in part, on special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“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.
The Russian foreign ministry promptly retweeted Trump’s tweet along with the message: “We agree.”