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Trump Says Putin ‘Means It’ About Not Meddling

“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,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Mr. Trump heaped disdain on the former leaders of three American intelligence agencies — John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director; James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence; and James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he fired this year — appearing to suggest that they were less trustworthy than Mr. Putin.

“I mean, give me a break — they’re political hacks,” Mr. 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 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,” Mr. 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 the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, as well as multiple congressional inquiries.

Mr. Trump’s comments about the Russian president and his warning about deteriorating Moscow ties came after the close of the APEC conference here in Danang, where the White House steered clear of a formal meeting between the two men and made a point of announcing on Friday that one would not occur.

The small group of reporters who travel with Mr. Trump were barred from covering his activities for most of Saturday, leaving them in the dark about his informal interactions. But video showed him shaking hands with Mr. Putin on Friday evening at a gala dinner and chatting with him on Saturday before and after a group photograph of the APEC leaders.

The Kremlin released a statement saying that the leaders had met and struck an agreement on Syria, but the White House did not confirm the information for most of the day. Then, in a question-and-answer session with reporters later, Mr. Trump said he had had two or three brief conversations with Mr. Putin, mostly about Syria.

The talks were described in a joint statement by United States and Russia that reaffirmed previous commitments to defeat the Islamic State and to untangle conflicts between their forces on the Syrian battlefield.

It said that Mr. Trump believed he had had “a good meeting” with Mr. Putin on common efforts that, once in place, would “save thousands of lives.”

Mr. Trump’s description of the exchange about election meddling was striking because it suggested that he concurred with Mr. Putin’s oft-stated contention that the issue was a contrived story that had been allowed to become an irritant between the United States and Russia, to the detriment of both countries.

“This is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin. “He says that very strongly; he really seems to be insulted by it, and he says he didn’t do it.”

Mr. Trump’s reaction recalled the first face-to-face talk between the two presidents, on the sideline of the Group of 20 summit meeting in July in Hamburg, Germany, during which Mr. Trump broached the subject of Russia’s election meddling but threatened no consequences.

When Mr. Putin denied it, American officials said at the time, Mr. Trump said the two countries must agree to disagree on the issue and move on to other topics where they could work together.

Russian officials provided an alternative account, asserting at the time that Mr. Trump had accepted Mr. Putin’s denial of the election interference and even said that some in the United States were “exaggerating” Moscow’s role without proof.

That seemed to have been Mr. Trump’s message on Saturday, when he repeatedly blamed Democrats for allegedly harming his efforts to improve relations with Russia by pushing false charges.

“I call it the artificial Democrat barrier that gets in the way,” Mr. Trump said. “Which is a shame.”

Mr. Putin similarly brushed off recent revelations that Russians had contacts with Mr. Trump’s campaign team — including an aide who had met with a woman described as Mr. Putin’s niece — as a “domestic political struggle” in the United States.

“I think that everything connected with the so-called Russian dossier in the United States is a manifestation of a continuing domestic political struggle,” Mr. Putin said after the summit meeting, in remarks carried by Russian news media.

“I learned only yesterday about some sort of meeting of my relatives with representatives of the administration or official figures,” Mr. Putin said. He said his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, had told him about the reports.

“I know absolutely nothing about this — absolutely nothing,” Mr. Putin said. “It seems like nonsense.”

He told reporters in Danang, “It’s important that we find an opportunity, with our teams, to sit down at the level of presidents and talk through our complex relations.” He added: “Our relations are still in crisis. Russia is ready to turn the page and move on.”

Mr. Putin said a scheduling conflict and an unspecified issue with protocol had gotten in the way of a more substantive meeting with Mr. Trump. “This was connected to Mr. Trump’s schedule, and my schedule, and certain formalities with protocol that our teams, unfortunately, didn’t resolve. Well, they will be punished,” he said.

“Still, nothing terrible happened,” Mr. Putin added. “We spoke in the course of today’s gathering; we had a conversation.”

Mr. Putin said that Mr. Trump behaved at meetings “with the highest level of good will and correctness,” adding, “He is a cultured person, and comfortable discussing matters related to work.”

Source: NYT > World

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