While President Donald Trump was effectively forced to cancel a formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin due to the glare of the Mueller indictments - despite the fact that the charges had seemingly little to do with his campaign - the two leaders still took a minute to chat on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific conference in VIetnam on Saturday. Photos captured Putin ominously whispering a message into his surrogate’s ear, before posing for a few photos alongside other world leaders, with one photo featuring a much discussed handshake between Putin and Trump.
Afterward, when reporters asked if he was worried about the Mueller probe, Trump repeated his allegation that the investigation is a ‘hoax’, with the president calling the FBI a “bunch of hacks,” according to the New York Post.
“They’re political hacks,” Trump said of the former CIA director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former FBI chief James Comey, who have said that the evidence of Russian meddling is clear.
“You have Brennan, you have Clapper and you have Comey. Comey’s proven now to be a liar and he’s proven to be a leaker. So you look at that,” Trump said. “And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that."
But he fell short of saying that he took Putin’s word.
“Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him,” Trump said. “I would rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I would rather … get to work with him on the Ukraine rather than standing and arguing about whether or not— because that whole thing was set up by the Democrats."
Of course, this isn’t the first time Trump has lashed out at his own intelligence community over its finding that Russia actively intervened to try and sway the November 2016 election in Trump’s favor. It’s also not the first time he’s said he believes Putin’s claim that Russia had nothing to do with the hacks.
Two days ago, the DOJ declared that Russia Today would need to register as a Foreign Agent, or its staff would risk arrest in the US.
President Trump on Saturday brushed off allegations that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, and implied he would take Vladimir Putin’s word on the matter more seriously than the opinions of some US intelligence officials.
Meanwhile, the CIA has reaffirmed that the Russia interference narrative remains the official position of the US intelligence community by issuing a rebuttal to the president’s statement.
Trump also said the suspicions about Putin are hurting his ability to develop a closer relationship with the leader in order to have more productive discussions on North Korea, the Hill reported.
“We could really be helped a lot with Russia having to do with North Korea,” Trump said.
“You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives. This isn’t baby stuff, this is the real deal. And if Russia helped us, in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster."
Trump and Putin met Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Danang, Vietnam. Though they didn’t have a “formal” meeting scheduled, Trump says they will issue a joint statement later in the day. What that statement is about is unclear.. Trump said the two leaders had “two or three very short conversations” during the larger forum and discussed Syria.
Predictably, Trump said Putin is “very insulted” by the suggestion Moscow attempted to hack the election.
Because presumably, if Putin had done it, he would’ve done a much better job...