Trump: Putin again denies meddling in 2016 election

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Trump: Putin again denies meddling in 2016 election
Trump: Putin again denies meddling in 2016 election

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – President Donald Trump said Saturday that Russia’s Vladimir Putin again denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections. But Trump declined to say whether he believed the Russian leader.

“He says he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on the trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. “Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it.”

Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for an economic summit, but the two spoke informally several times and reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria. But Trump made clear that the issue of Russian meddling in the election hovers over the leaders’ relationship – Putin is “insulted” by the accusation, Trump said. In a blistering partisan attack, Trump accused Democrats of using the election issue to create a barrier between the U.S. and Russia as the nations work on crises in Syria and Ukraine.

“Having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told reporters, once again casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did try to interfere in the election. “People will die because of it.”

Trump’s suggestion that he may believe Putin over his own nation’s intelligence community is certain to re-ignite the firestorm over the election meddling. Meanwhile, a special counsel investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea.

Trump said the probe into the election hacking was a “fake barrier” placed by Democrats that was hurting the United States’ ability to have a relationship with Russia, a distraction that was putting lives at stake.

The Kremlin issued a statement Saturday saying that the leaders met during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Denang and reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of the civil war-torn country now that the Islamic State group has largely been pushed out. Among the agreements’ key points, according to the Russians, were an affirmation of de-escalation zones, a system to prevent dangerous incidents between American and Russian forces, and a commitment to a peaceful solution governed by a Geneva peace process.

The Kremlin quickly promoted the agreement as the White House stayed silent. Trump told reporters that the deal was reached “very quickly” and that it would save a number of lives. And he praised his relationship with Putin, saying “We seem to have a very good feeling for each other and a good relationship, considering we don’t know each other well.”

Snippets of video of conference events have shown Trump and Putin shaking hands and chatting, including during the world leaders’ traditional group photo. The two walked together down a path to the photo site, conversing amiably, with Trump punctuating his thoughts with hand gestures and Putin smiling.

Journalists traveling with Trump were not granted access to any of the APEC events he participated in in the picturesque tropical seaside city.

White House officials worked quietly behind the scenes negotiating with the Kremlin over a formal meeting. The Russians raised expectations for such a session and Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Asia that it was “expected we’ll meet with Putin” to discuss issues including ramping up pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic weapons program.As speculation built, the two sides tried to craft the framework of a deal on the future of Syria that Trump and Putin could announce in a formal bilateral meeting, according to two administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Though North Korea and the Ukraine had been discussed, the two sides focused on trying to strike an agreement about a path to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, according to officials. But the talks stalled and, minutes before Air Force One touched down in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the meeting was off.

Putin and Trump crossed paths several times during the conference.

The two men, each wearing traditional blue Vietnamese shifts, shook hands and greeted one another as they stood side-by-side for the group photo of world leaders.

On Saturday, they were also seen shaking hands and speaking briefly during one meeting, according to a Fox News videographer who was the only American journalist allowed into the room. Trump and Putin were also seen chatting, with plenty of hand gestures from Trump, as they walked side by side to a dramatic vista overlooking the South China Sea for another group picture.

Trump who is on a lengthy Asia trip, attended meetings and a lunch Saturday before heading to the capital city of Hanoi for a state visit.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Darlene Superville and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump talk as they arrive for the family photo session during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. President Trump stood before a summit of Asian leaders keen on regional trade pacts and delivered a roaring “America first” message Friday, denouncing China for unfair trade practices just a day after he had heaped praise on President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)
Left to right; Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk to the group photo at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Trump and Putin may not be having a formal meeting while they’re in Vietnam for an economic summit. But the two appear to be chumming it up nonetheless. Snippets of video from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference Saturday have shown the leaders chatting and shaking hands at events including a world leaders’ group photo. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
Leaders pose during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Front left to right, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, China’s President Xi Jinping, Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Back left to right, Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
Leaders pose during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Front left to right; China’s President Xi Jinping, Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, back left to right; Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
Leaders attend the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. Top left to right; Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Taiwan’s representative James Soong, botton left to right, Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, U.S. President Donald Trump. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up his hand during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump is reflected in glass during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP)
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