President Donald Trump was asked to defend his sentiments to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he appeared to make light of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
On Friday, Trump lightheartedly told Putin, “Don’t meddle in the election” when asked by a reporter if the topic would come up during their bilateral meeting. The offhand remark, perhaps an attempt at levity, drew swift criticism.Trump said he had a “tremendous discussion” with the Russian leader, and suggested it came up again later in their meeting.”I did say it, and I did discuss it a little bit after that, too,” he said.Trump gives Putin light-hearted warning: ‘Don’t meddle in the election’When he made his playful admonishment against election interference, Putin sat beside him laughing. Trump’s aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also smiled.
The exchange drew sharp criticism from those who have accused Trump of being too friendly with Putin.
Trump’s meeting with Putin marked the first time the two met face-to-face since former special counsel Robert Mueller finished his nearly two-year probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In an interview this week with the Financial Times, Putin dismissed Mueller’s findings, saying it was “strange” that Russia was still being accused of interference. He also praised Trump as “talented” while adding that “the liberal idea has become obsolete.”
Trump and Putin also shared a laugh during the summit over frustration with journalists, with Trump saying, “Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”
Putin responded in English: “We also have. It’s the same.”
Numerous critics of Putin and Russian journalists have turned up dead over the years in Russia, and the country ranks toward the bottom among all nations in terms of press freedom, according to the World Press Freedom Index.
Trump regularly derides coverage he dislikes as “fake news” and has labelled specific news outlets the “enemy of the people.”