"I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory," Trump said later Tuesday. He added that the two leaders "will probably get together in the not-too-distant future" to discuss the international arms race.
Trump congratulated Putin even after aides, in briefing materials prepared ahead of the call, reportedly warned him: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." Trump was also supposed to condemn the recent Russia-linked nerve agent poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in the U.K., but he did not, according to The Washington Post, which cited officials familiar with the call.
The phone call prompted a harsh response from some of Trump's biggest critics.
"An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement condemning the call. "And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election."
The election win keeps Putin in office as Russia's president for another six years. His closest rival in the election, which was held Sunday, scored nearly 12 percent of the vote, while his most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the race.
Putin's overwhelming victory and the circumstances leading to it have prompted criticism from Russia watchers. The White House, however, skirted the issue Tuesday.
"We're focused on our elections. We don't get to dictate how other countries operate," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Tuesday's White House press briefing. "What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country."