Trump Declares 'Confidence in Both Parties' on Election Meddling, Putin Denial
Asked at a press conference after the Helsinki summit today whether he believes U.S. intelligence agencies or the Kremlin, President Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin made a "very powerful" denial of Moscow's 2016 campaign influence operation and said he has "confidence in both parties."
Putin also said that he wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton in the election, while Trump blamed both the U.S. and Russia -- and the Mueller probe, in particular -- for deteriorating relations.
Putin presented Trump with a soccer ball at the press conference, declaring "now the ball is in your court." Trump said he would give the ball to his son Barron, then tossed it to first lady Melania Trump in the front row.
The day began with a breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, at which Trump predicted "we'll do just fine" at his bilateral meeting with Putin.
Putin arrived to the meeting 35 minutes late. He and Trump first went into a one-on-one meeting with only translators in the room; election meddling days after the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers by special counsel Robert Mueller was not included on the provided list of topics.
The White House said the one-on-one sit-down lasted for about two hours before the meetings opened up to a working lunch with the Russian delegation and U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and National Security Council Director of Russian Affairs Fiona Hill.
At the opening of the joint press conference, Putin declared that "the Cold War is a thing of past, the era of acute ideological confrontation of the two countries is a thing of remote past, is a vestige of the past."
"Today's negotiations reflected our joint wish -- our joint wish with President Trump to readdress this negative situation in the bilateral relationship," he said. "I outlined first steps for improving this relationship, to restore the acceptable level of trust and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual interest issues."
Putin said discussion topics included arms treaties, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, Syria, North Korea, Russia's opposition to the U.S. withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, and joint business investment opportunities.
Trump called it "direct, open, deeply productive dialogue" and said "our relationship has never been worse than it is now -- however, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that."
"During today's meeting, I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. Spent a great deal of time talking about it. And President Putin may very well want to address it, and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea," he said.