President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a more than hour-long conversation Friday in which Mr. Trump said the two leaders discussed the “Russian hoax,” but Mr. Trump did not ask Putin to stop meddling in U.S. elections.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders first informed reporters of the call, before Mr. Trump confirmed details of their conversation on Twitter and in person. The conversation comes as Mr. Trump continues to harp on one point of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings without context — that Trump campaign workers did not take any actions amounting to conspiracy with Russia.
Mueller’s report did not decide whether Mr. Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice, although Mueller did listin which Mr. Trump may have obstructed justice.
“Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia,” Mr. Trump tweeted Friday. “As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing … We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the “Russian Hoax.” Very productive talk!”
Later Friday in a meeting with the Slovakian prime minister, Mr. Trump said he and Putin discussed Russian meddling, but he did not ask the Russian leader to put an end to such behavior.
“We discussed it,” Mr. Trump said, asked about Russian meddling as described in the Mueller report. “He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect of ‘It started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.”
Pressed by a reporter on whether he asked Putin to stop such behavior, the president said, “We didn’t discuss that. Really we didn’t discuss it. We discussed five or six things. Also we went into great detail on various things especially I would say the nuclear, especially maybe Venezuela. We talked about North Korea at great length. Pretty much that’s it.”
Their conversation also comes as the White House accuses Russia of talkingout of leaving the country for Cuba. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed earlier this week that Maduro was on the tarmac about to flee when Russia persuaded him to stay. The U.S. has been pressuring Maduro to abdicate control to Juan Guaido, whom the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as the rightful leader. But so far, the U.S. has not moved ahead with any military intervention, saying only that it’s an option that’s still on the table.
Russia had a slightly different read on the Trump-Putin call.
“While exchanging views on the situation around Venezuela, the President of Russia underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country, whereas outside interference in the country’s internal affairs and attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis,” says a readout from the Kremlin.
Sanders on Friday said Mr. Trump and Putin discussed the Mueller report briefly, in light of the completion of the investigation. The president was heavily criticized in 2017 for his press conference alongside Putinin the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Trump eventually had to clarify that he did indeed agree with his intelligence community’s assessment that Russia intervened, but Trump critics insist he hasn’t been forceful enough on the topic.
Sanders told reporters Friday that Mr. Trump and Putin also discussed nuclear agreements, the possibility of including China in a counter-nuclear agreement, the need for North Korea to denuclearize, and the importance of getting supplies through to the suffering people of Venezuela.
— CBS News’ Sara Cook and Arden Farhi contributed to this report