WASHINGTON — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he believes President Trump agrees with his denial that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Such a conclusion by Trump would put him at odds with the conclusion of multiple intelligence and lawmakers.
Putin and Trump met at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg on Friday for more than two hours.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the meeting along with his Russian counterpart, said Trump pressed Putin on the issue of interference many times, but Putin denied his country’s involvement. Trump decided to move on in the meeting because the disagreement seemed intractable, Tillerson said.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Tillerson’s suggestion of giving equal weight to the US intelligence community and to Putin’s denials was a “grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future.”
Schumer encouraged his congressional colleagues to toughen sanctions against Russia.
At a press conference in Hamburg on Saturday, Putin said Trump raised the issue of Russia interfering in the election many times, but that the Russian leader denied involvement by Moscow. He said he believed Trump accepted his arguments.
“He asked many questions about that,” Putin said of Trump. “I answered those questions as best I could. I think he took note of that and agreed. In any case, it’s better to ask him how he reacted.”
Earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said reporters should “believe Lavrov” regarding differences in accounts of Friday’s meeting given by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Tillerson.
Trump, Putin, their top diplomats, and translators were the only people present during the long-anticipated meeting.
After the meeting, Lavrov told reporters that Trump agreed with Putin’s assurances that Russia hadn’t interfered in the election. “He accepts these statements,” Lavrov said of Trump — a contention that the White House denied vigorously.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government helped direct a sophisticated effort to tilt the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. Trump has been reluctant to accept that conclusion.
“It could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries,” Trump said during a news conference in Warsaw on Thursday. “I think a lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time.”
The US agencies concluded that Russian hackers stole and released e-mails of officials in the Democratic National Committee with the intent to damage Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help Trump.
‘He asked many questions about that. I answered those questions as best I could.’
Since the election, there have been fresh reports of breaches or attempted breaches of other computer systems in the United States, many of which are suspected to be tied to Russia.
Putin on Saturday said the United States and Russia could start restoring relations if contacts continue in the same way as Friday’s conversation. He also denied that Russia would attempt to interfere in other elections around the world, including in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel is running for reelection in September.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Trump “knows” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but didn’t respond directly on whether the president, in Friday’s meeting, accepted Putin’s assurances to the contrary.
“President Trump still knows that they meddled. President Putin knows that they meddled, but he is never going to admit to it. And that’s all that happened,” Haley said in a taped interview for CBS’s “Face the Nation” scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday. The network provided a partial transcript of Haley’s comments.
On whether Russia would face consequences for interfering, Haley said “You’re going to have to ask the president.”
In a separate interview to air Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Haley said “everyone knows” Russia meddled in the US election.
“They’re doing this across multiple continents, and they’re doing this in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries,” Haley said, according to a transcript from the network.
One Russian tabloid called the meeting “historic,” and there was a general sense that the talks could halt the decline in relations and lack of contact between the two countries.
This meeting “opened the way to a second, a third, a fourth meeting, where meaningful decisions will be made,” Sergei Markov, a political commentator close to the Kremlin, wrote on Facebook.