President Donald Trump said he believes the US intelligence agencies’ assessments that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, but said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin believes Russia didn’t interfere.
“I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in Hanoi. “I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”
He added that he wanted to “get along” with Russia and was “not looking to stand and start arguing with somebody” over alleged election meddling.
“What he believes is what he believes,” Trump said, referring to Putin. He added that the countries needed to “get to work” to resolve other international crises involving Syria and North Korea.
“It’s now time to get back to healing our world,” he said, adding that friendly relations with Russia “is an asset to our world and an asset to our country.”
Trump had drawn fierce backlash earlier on Saturday after he told reporters about Putin’s repeated denials that Russia attempted to sway the US election in Trump’s favor.
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
He continued: “I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Trump also lambasted several former intelligence officials, including former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in May, as well as former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Trump labeled them “political hacks.”
“So you look at it, I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he is proven now to be a leaker. So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with them.”
The remarks prompted the Central Intelligence Agency to release a statement saying that director Mike Pompeo “stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment … the intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.”
Trump had continued his tirade on Saturday evening, asking on Twitter, “When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing?”
He continued: “There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”