President Donald Trump, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, refused to say whether he believed his own intelligence agencies over Putin about interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. In an extraordinary news conference in Helsinki, Finland, just days after the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on charges of hacking into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s Clinton presidential campaign, Trump instead said both the U.S. and Russia were to blame over deteriorating relations.
Trump refuses to defend U.S. intelligence agencies
Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asked Trump whether he believed his own intelligence agencies or Putin about whether Russians interfered in the 2016 election and whether he would denounce the meddling and warn Putin against doing it again.
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In his answer, Trump declined to back his own Justice Department and instead put forward conspiracy theories about the 2016 election and pivoted again to Hillary Clinton's emails.
“We have two thoughts,” Trump said. “You have groups the are wondering why the FBI never took the [DNC] server. “Why haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee. I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting that out.”
Trump also refused to back U.S. intelligence agencies and noted that Putin had denied Russian involvement.
“I don’t see any reason why it would be but I really do want to see the server,” Trump said.
Afterward, Daniel R. Coats, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement that the intelligence community's role was to provide the best, fact-based information to the president and policymakers.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” he said.
Is there Russian "kompromat?"
The AP’s Lemire also asked Putin directly whether the Russian state had compromising information on Trump, which was the subject of a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent and which Trump supporters have denounced. The dossier alleged that an incident involving Trump and prostitutes was secretly recorded by Russia during the visit.
Putin called the uncorroborated accusation “utter nonsense” but in waving it off did not specifically deny the claim. Instead he insisted he didn’t know that Trump was in Moscow at the time and said that many American businessmen had visited Russia.
“Distinguished colleague, let me tell you this: When Mr. Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know he was in Moscow. I treat Mr. Trump with utmost respect but back then when he was private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me he was in Moscow.”
Rob Goldstone, a music promoter who arranged the meeting in July 2016 in Trump Tower when material damaging to Clinton was allegedly promised to Donald Trump Jr., tweeted out the following:
“President Putin just stated that he had no idea Donald Trump was in Moscow in 2013. I know for sure that he did and tell the full story in my soon to be released book…”
Putin was asked whether he wanted Trump to win the election, as U.S. intelligence agencies have maintained.
“Yes, I did,” Putin said. “Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the Russian relationship back to normal.”
Will Russia extradite indicted Russian agents?
Putin was asked whether he would extradite 12 Russian agents indicted for hacking into Democratic computers during the 2016 presidential election. The U.S does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.
Putin replied that a different U.S.-Russian treaty calls for mutual assistance on criminal cases and suggested Mueller send an official request asking that Russia question the agents on behalf of the United States.
“I don’t know the full extent of the situation but President Trump mentioned this issue and I will look into it,” Putin said. “So far I can say the following off the top of my head. We have an existing agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, an existing treaty that dates back to 1999, the mutual assistance on criminal cases. This treaty is in full effect, it works quite efficiently.”
He said that U.S. agents could come to Russia to witness the questioning, if Americans would also assist Russia in its investigation into Putin critic Bill Browder, a British financier who has spearheaded sanctions against Russians for human rights abuses.
Russia is coming off hosting a successful World Cup competition, which ended on Sunday with France defeating Croatia 4-2 to win the tournament. Putin playfully tossed a soccer ball to Trump, telling him, “Speaking of the football actually. Mr. President, I’ll give this ball. and now the ball is in your court. All the more that the United States will host the World Cup in 2026.”
The 2026 World Cup will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Trump said the soccer ball would go to his son, Baron, and threw the ball to his wife, Melania, who was sitting in the audience.
Afterward, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted: “Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”
Reporter ejected from press conference
Moments before the joint press conference began a reporter representing The Nation magazine was forcibly removed from the room by security agents. He appeared to be carrying a handwritten sign that said “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation’s editor, told CNN: “Sam Husseini, communications director of Institute for Public Accuracy, received press accreditation from @thenation to cover the summit. As Trump administration consistently denigrates media, we’re deeply troubled by reports that he was forcibly removed from press conference.”