HELSINKI — President Donald Trump on Monday said at a joint briefing with Russian President Vladimir Putin that while he had "great confidence" in the U.S. intelligence community, Putin was "extremely strong and powerful in his denial" that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The president blamed "both countries" for the strained relationship. When a reporter asked the president if he would denounce Russia's efforts to interfere in the presidential election, Trump raised the issue of Hillary Clinton's email server.
"I think it's a disgrace we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 e-mails. I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said.
“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that interfered with the 2016 election, Trump said.
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Putin told Trump during the summit Monday that he never meddled in the election. At the briefing, Putin called the allegations "nonsense," and offered to allow special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators into Russia.
"The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs including election process," Putin said during the briefing alongside Trump.
The comments from the two leaders came during a free-wheeling press briefing at the tail end of Trump's raucous European tour. While the two leaders discussed issues ranging from the Syrian Civil War to nuclear nonproliferation, critics are likely to seize on what was left unsaid: Three days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian nationals for interfering in a U.S. election, Trump offered Putin nothing but praise.
Lawmakers, including a number of powerful Republicans in the Senate, were quick to criticize the president's comments Monday.
"Putin only understands strength," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters. "And I did not think this was a good moment for our country."
In a statement posted to Twitter later Monday, the president said he had confidence in the U.S. intelligence community.
"However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along," he wrote.