By Katie Reilly
Standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin after a joint summit in Helsinki on Monday, President Donald Trump bashed a special counsel investigation into Russian meddling, referenced conspiracy theories about the hacking of Democratic emails and declined to criticize Putin for interfering in the election.
At a 46-minute joint press conference with Putin, Trump argued that the Russian president had “powerfully” denied meddling in the election and said he didn’t see “any reason” why they would have.
“My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said Monday, when asked whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials over Putin and whether he would denounce the Russian interference.
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Trump’s summit with Putin came days after the Justice Department charged 12 Russian intelligence officials with hacking the Democratic National Committee’s emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and state election systems. The charges were part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which has brought 191 criminal charges against 32 people and three Russian companies.
But after Putin again denied meddling in the election, Trump used his time at the lectern to undermine the conclusion reached by U.S. intelligence agencies, the Justice Department and private cybersecurity experts that Russia hacked the Democrats.
“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 Monday. “And what he did is an incredible offer — he offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
During the joint press conference, Trump praised the summit as a success, said it resulted in “deeply productive dialogue” and complimented Putin as “a good competitor.”
Asked if he held Russia accountable for anything, Trump said, “I hold both countries responsible,” doubling down on tweets earlier Monday in which he faulted “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” for the country’s relationship with Russia.
Both Trump and Putin repeatedly denied accusations that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian intelligence officials to swing the election. “You can trust no one,” Putin said, calling claims of collusion “utter nonsense.”
“President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia in the American elections, and I had to reiterate things I said several times — including during our personal contacts — that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election processes,” Putin said.
Trump, meanwhile, called Mueller’s investigation “a disaster for our country.”
“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes,” Trump said, referring to the United States and Russia. “I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all.”