Don’t meddle in the election, Trump tells Putin lightheartedly

Bloomberg | | Updated on: Jun 28, 2019
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US President Donald Trump lightheartedly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin not to interfere in the upcoming US election during a meeting at the Group of 20 summit, their first since Special Counsel Robert Mueller documented alleged Kremlin efforts to manipulate the 2016 vote.

Prompted by a reporters question about whether Trump would warn Putin against future election meddling, Trump said: “Of course I will.”

“Don’t meddle in the election, President,” Trump then told Putin, pointing his finger at his Russian counterpart. “Don’t meddle in the election,” he repeated.

Putin smiled at first, and turned to his translator. After she told him what Trump had said, he laughed. Trump looked at Putin, shook his head and smiled.

Trump’s admonition did not appear to be serious. The exchange was barely audible as Russian and American reporters shouted questions over one another after they were asked to depart the room following brief opening remarks by the leaders.

‘None of your business’

Trump has repeatedly disputed the consensus of US intelligence officials that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, and has often chided reporters who ask whether he will warn Putin against further meddling in 2020.

“What I say to him is none of your business,” he told reporters on Wednesday before departing for the summit in Osaka, Japan.

First meet since Helsinki

Putin has denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and Trump sided with him at a summit in Helsinki in July. The US President was castigated by lawmakers back home over the incident, forcing him to later walk back the remarks.

The meeting was the first extended encounter between the men since their Helsinki summit. Its also the first time Trump and Putin have met since Mueller concluded his probe into Russian election interference. Mueller determined that there were multiple, systematic efforts by the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the meddling deserved the attention of all Americans.

Trump has declared himself exonerated by Mueller’s report. The Special Counsel did not find evidence that the President or his associates conspired with the Russian interference campaign, and Mueller said that Department of Justice policy prevented him from reaching a conclusion on whether Trump committed a crime, obstruction of justice, by repeatedly interfering with the probe.

US officials recently warned that Russia is likely to again attempt an interference campaign in the 2020 elections.

For Moscow, the meeting helps promote Putin’s status as a prominent world leader despite years of efforts by the US and its allies to isolate him. Trump cancelled a meeting with Putin before November’s G-20, citing Russia’s capture of Ukrainian ships and sailors in a Black Sea naval clash. Russia has yet to release them.

“Haven’t discussed them, haven’t discussed them,” Trump said of the Ukrainian ships and sailors during Friday’s meeting. “We haven’t seen each other for a long time since the Helsinki meeting,” Putin said through a translator. “However, our staffers had been working and gave us a good opportunity to continue what we agreed on.”

Improving relations

A US official said before the summit that Trump would seek to improve relations with Russia in the meeting. Afterwards, the White House, in a statement, said that the two leaders reviewed the state of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Russia.

“Both leaders agreed that improved relations between the United States and Russia was in each countries mutual interest and the interest of the world,” the White House said in the statement. “The Presidents agreed the two countries will continue discussion on a 21st century model of arms control, which President Trump stated as needing to include China. The leaders also discussed the situations in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine.”

Since Trump and Putin last met, the American President withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, citing violations by Russia. Trump has periodically said he would like to negotiate a new arms control agreement with Putin.

But, Trump is virtually alone in Washington in desiring warmer relations with the Kremlin, which is regarded by most US lawmakers as acting against American interests across the globe.

Putin has provided military support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and is working with Germany to construct a natural gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, through the Baltic Sea. Russia is trying to close a deal with Turkey to sell the NATO country an anti-aircraft missile system, a transaction the US has threatened would lead to sanctions against Ankara. And the Kremlin has backed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom the US calls illegitimate and seeks to depose.

Published on June 28, 2019

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