U.S. President Donald Trump said he had addressed Russia's interference in the U.S. 2016 election during his talks with Vladimir Putin and that the Russian leader was "extremely strong" in his denials.
"I have president Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be," President Trump said, standing at podium side-by-side with the Russian president during a joint press conference Putin in Helsinki, Finland, ABC News reports.
He continued: “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
While Putin has long denied Russian involvement and did so again Monday, the U.S. intelligence community has long maintained that Russia did in fact meddle in the U.S. election, and just three days ago, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian government agents for hacking the Democratic Party during the 2016 election.
Trump said Monday that Putin made an “incredible offer” to allow U.S. investigators work alongside Russian investigators.
“He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer,” Trump said.
Trump said that relations between the two nations were at a historic low point prior to today's meeting but argued that relations have already taken a positive turn as a result of today's diplomatic engagement.
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” President Trump said.
Trump described the conversations as “direct, open, [and] deeply productive,” while Putin called the meeting a “success” and “fruitful.”
Asked if he holds Russia accountable for any specific element of the strained relations between the two nations, Trump said he holds both countries accountable but specifically zeroed in on the ongoing special counsel probe in the U.S. as a “disaster” that has divided the U.S. domestically and for having a damaging impact on U.S.-Russian relations.
“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes,” Trump said. “I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart. It's kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.”
“We won that race,” Trump said, referencing his victory over Hillary Clinton. “It's a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing – we discussed this also – is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world.”
When a reporter questioned Putin on his continued denials of U.S. election meddling, President Trump jumped in to say "we ran a brilliant campaign, and that's why I'm president.”
Even as he was deeply critical of the special counsel probe, President Trump did not offer any public condemnation of Russia’s meddling in the election.