President Trump said Saturday that he accepts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials about election meddling, and doesn’t want to press him further as he seeks Moscow’s help on global hot spots such as North Korea, Syria and Ukraine.
Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One in Vietnam that he asked Mr. Putin again about Russia’s election interference during a private meeting on the sidelines of a summit.
“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,” the president said. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. He says that very strongly, he really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. You can only ask so many times. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election.”
The president suggested he puts more stock in Mr. Putin than in three former U.S. officials who stated Russia interfered in the election — former CIA Director John Brennan, fired FBI Director James B. Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“They’re political hacks,” Mr. Trump said. “So you look at it, and then 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. And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”
Mr. Trump blamed the tensions with Russia on Democrats and Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state had clumsily tried to “reset” relations with Russia by displaying a large button with “reset” spelled incorrectly in Russian.
“She hit that reset button, it was a joke. But she tried and she failed,” the president said. “Sometimes you don’t have chemistry with someone you don’t. But [President] Obama did not have the right chemistry and Hilary was in way over her head. Russia could really help us and the Democrats wanted to have a good relationship with Russia but they couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the talent, they didn’t have the chemistry to do it, they didn’t have what it takes.”
He said it’s a “shame” that Democrats tried to ruin U.S. relations with Moscow with allegations of election meddling — allegations which are supported by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“That whole thing was set up by the Democrats,” Mr. Trump said. “Look at [Clinton campaign chairman John] Podesta, look at all the things that they have done with the phony dossier. Those are the big events.”
He added, “There is a time when I think Putin and I president Putin and I would have a great relationship and that would be great for both countries. And it would take a lot of danger out of this world. It’s a dangerous time – this isn’t small stuff. This is a very dangerous time. Having a great relationship or even a good relationship with the president of Russia – Hillary tried it, she failed, nobody mentions it.”
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid in 2016 for a dossier with information about Mr. Trump from Russian sources, including salacious claims about Mr. Trump’s travels to Russia.
Mr. Trump said he doesn’t intend to pursue the election issue with Mr. Putin any longer because there are challenges around the world to solve with Russia’s help, such as the agreement he reached with Mr. Putin on Saturday to join forces in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, and on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
“Look, I can’t stand there and argue with him, I would rather have him get out of Syria, I would rather get to work with him on the Ukraine rather than arguing about whether or not [Russia meddled in the election],” he said. “This is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”
He said he has “a good feeling toward getting things done” with Mr. Putin.
“If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing,” he said. “In fact it would be a great thing, not a bad thing, because he could really help us on North Korea. We have a big problem with North Korea and China is helping us. And because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing. We could really be helped a lot with Russia having to do with North Korea. You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives. This isn’t baby stuff, this is the real deal. And if Russia helped us in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster.”
He said China is cooperating with the U.S. by cutting off oil supplies to North Korea and reducing other trade.
“But Russia on the other hand may be making up the difference,” he said.