American President Donald Trump has said he cannot see any reason to believe Russia interfered in the election that put him into office in 2016. Trump made the statement at a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Every major American intelligence agency found that there was such interference by Russia during the election. The issue remains under investigation by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller who has charged members of Trump’s campaign as well as Russians.
Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Helsinki, Finland.
"During today's meeting I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. I spent a great deal of time talking about it."
“President Putin was very strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump told reporters.
Putin said he told Trump during their meeting that “the Russian state never interfered and does not plan to interfere in internal American electoral process.”
Trump said he did not directly criticize Putin over that or any other issue on which the two countries have disagreement.
Both leaders described their talks as having gone well.
"Our expectations are grounded in realism, but our hopes are grounded in America's desire for friendship, cooperation and peace," Trump said. "And I think I can speak on behalf of Russia when I say that, also."
He added, "Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago.”
Putin said the talks were business-like and called them a success.
Meeting came after charges against Russians
The meeting came three days after the special counsel charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with election interference. Russia is not likely to send the accused to the U.S. for trial, as the two countries do not have an agreement about surrendering suspects of crimes.
However, Putin suggested that Mueller send a request to Russia in connection with those charged.
"Our law enforcement is perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States," he said.
American leaders shocked at comments
In Washington Monday, U.S. political leaders reacted with shock over Trump’s comments following his talks with Putin.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the president had missed a chance to hold Russia firmly responsible for interference and warn it against such action in the future.
Graham posted on Twitter, "This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves."
Another top Republican, Senator John McCain, said, "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgracefulperformances by an American president in memory.” The damage caused, McCain said, is difficult to estimate.
Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, said, "There is no question Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to underminedemocracy here and around the world."
He added that, "There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals."
A longtime Republican critic of Trump, retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, said, "I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This isshameful."
Democratic lawmakers were equally angered by Trump's remarks.
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "For the President to side with Putin over his own intelligence officials and blame the United States for Russia's attack on our democracy is a complete disgrace."
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