Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met this weekend during a summit of international leaders in Vietnam, but American reporters and photographers were apparently not there to see it.
The two world leaders spoke during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summer held in Danang, a private chat where Trump said the issue of Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election came up. Trump claims he asked Putin if Russia meddled in the election, which Putin again denied, the New York Times reported.
“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again,” Trump said to reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump traveled to Hanoi for another meeting. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
Trump had repeatedly cast doubt on the idea that Russia meddled in the election, despite the conclusion from the U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin ordered the interference in order to help Trump win the election. At the summit this weekend, Trump said it is time to move beyond the issue so the United States and Russia can cooperate on a number of issues including addressing North Korea and the Syrian civil war.
The meeting created controversy beyond Trump apparently siding with Putin and against the U.S. intelligence agencies. Afterward, there were reports that the American photographers and reporters traveling with Trump were banned from covering the event.
As CNBC reporter Christina Wilkie noted, it appeared to be very secretive for the White House to bar reporters from such a high-profile meeting, especially one that generated a joint agreement with Russia regarding actions in Syria. Shortly after Trump’s meeting, he and Putin issued a joint statement on defeating ISIS in Syria.
“The Presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria,” the statement read in part (via NPR). “They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President [Assad’s] recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254.”
After the meeting with Putin, Trump used some of his strongest language yet in denouncing the Russia investigation. Trump claimed that the idea of Russia interfering in the 2016 election is simply a political hit job created by his Democratic opponents.
“Having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing,” Trump said (via the New York Times). “This artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way, and that’s a shame, because people will die.”
But Trump’s denials come as Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is continuing to ramp up, including the first set of arrests that included former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. There are reports of many more indictments to come sometime in the next few weeks.
[Featured Image by Andrew Harnik/AP Images]