WASHINGTON — President Trump said Sunday that he had “strongly pressed” President Vladimir Putin of Russia twice about election meddling during their first face-to-face meeting last week but did not dispute Moscow’s claim that he had accepted Putin’s denial of involvement.
Trump declared it “time to move forward” in a constructive US relationship with Russia.
Trump’s account, in a thread of morning Twitter posts, of his lengthy and closely scrutinized closed-door meeting with Putin was an attempt to move beyond the controversy after Moscow characterized the election discussion as a meeting of minds rather than a showdown between the two leaders.
Trump’s tweets, though, did little to dispel that notion. He characterized his position as an “opinion” and asserted that he was prepared to team with Moscow on forming an “impenetrable cyber security unit” to thwart future breaches.
US intelligence agencies say Russia carried out a historic effort to interfere with American democracy last year, and will attempt to again.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election,” Trump said in one post. “He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion.”
“We negotiated a cease-fire in parts of Syria which will save lives,” Trump continued in another message. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
The posts, which drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, served as Trump’s first public comments on the meeting after the White House declined to schedule the customary presidential news conference at the end of the Group of 20 gathering in Hamburg. Trump’s meeting with Putin came on the sideline of that event, which ended Saturday.
Trump’s handling of the meeting with Putin has become a flash point in the United States, and will continue to be dissected amid the multiple investigations into whether the president’s campaign worked with Russia.
Republicans and Democrats on Sunday reacted with alarm to the president’s approach.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, called the president’s meeting with Putin “disastrous,” saying of Trump, “You are hurting your ability to govern this nation by forgiving and forgetting and empowering.”
“He is hurting his presidency,” Graham said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I want a clear message to Russia that you’ll pay a price for undercutting democracy, and if President Trump doesn’t embrace this, I think he will be empowering the Russians and betraying democracy.”
Of the idea of teaming with Russia on cybersecurity, Graham said, “It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”
Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, also expressed grave concern about a US-Russia cybersecurity initiative. “Partnering with Putin on a ‘cyber security unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘chemical weapons unit,’ ” he said on Twitter, referring to President Bashar Assad of Syria, who has repeatedly used chemical weapons to attack his own people.
Democrats, too, expressed deep skepticism about Trump’s strategy.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the president’s idea of a joint effort with Moscow against cyberintrusions “dangerously naive.”
“I don’t think we can expect the Russians to be any kind of a credible partner in some cybersecurity unit,” he said Sunday on “State of the Union.” “If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow.”
Putin broke with his normal practice of not speaking to reporters and held a lengthy news conference Sunday, in which he said that Trump had “agreed” with his statements about election interference.
“He raised many questions on the issue,” Putin said, according to Sputnik. “I answered all these questions, as far as I could. I think that he took it into account and agreed. Actually, you would better ask him how he found it.”
A day before, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — the only other Russian official in the meeting, which also included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — had said that Trump had not only accepted Putin’s denial, but also said that the election meddling allegations had been “exaggerated” by some in the United States without proof.
Yet Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, on Sunday described a confrontational meeting between the two presidents and said that Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.”
“This was an extensive portion of the meeting,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” Senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private meeting, have said the election interference occupied about 40 minutes of the 135-minute discussion.
In separate interviews broadcast over the weekend, Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador, said Putin’s description of the meeting was an attempt to obfuscate. “This is Russia trying to save face, and they can’t,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections.”
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said three times that President Trump had handled the meeting “brilliantly” and had “made his position felt.”
Read Trump’s tweets
The G 20 Summit was a great success for the U.S. - Explained that the U.S. must fix the many bad trade deals it has made. Will get done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
...We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
...and safe. Questions were asked about why the CIA & FBI had to ask the DNC 13 times for their SERVER, and were rejected, still don't....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
...have it. Fake News said 17 intel agencies when actually 4 (had to apologize). Why did Obama do NOTHING when he had info before election?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017