In what he said was an hour-long phone conversation Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump claimed that when he brought up the Mueller report findings, Putin “smiled,” though as The Guardian newspaper noted, “We’re not entirely sure how to tell if someone on the other end of the phone is smiling.”
In a Twitter posting, Trump said of his call with Putin, “We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the ‘Russian Hoax.’ Very productive talk!”
By the phrase “Russian Hoax,” Trump was referring to the findings of Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, who far from labeling Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election a “hoax,” wrote in his report — posted online by The New York Times — that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
And though Mueller did not “establish” that Trump had reached an agreement in advance with Russia to help him win the 2016 election, the special counsel investigation did find “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign,” and that Trump’s campaign “expected it would benefit” from Russia’s illicit activities.
But according to Trump, speaking at the White House on Friday morning, when he mentioned Mueller’s findings, Putin “smiled.”
“He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and ended up being a mouse,” Trump said, as quoted by The Guardian.
Trump also said, according to CNN, that when it came to making clear to Putin that meddling in the 2020 election was off limits, Trump simply said, “we didn’t discuss that.”
Trump’s account of the call drew comparisons to his joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in June of last year. In that press conference, Trump appeared to unquestioningly accept Putin’s denial that Russia has interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, in what CNN called “a stunning rebuke of the US intelligence community,” which had unanimously concluded that Russia did, in fact, interfere — a finding now confirmed by Mueller in his report.
Reporter: “Did you ask him (Putin) not to meddle in the next election?”
President Trump: “We didn’t discuss that” pic.twitter.com/LMlJqfuyU8
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 3, 2019
“The President’s first responsibility is to defend the nation,” wrote Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor and former U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns via Twitter. “Yet he doesn’t have the toughness to warn Putin personally about Russia’s assault on our democracy. Unpatriotic.”
A Kremlin statement on the phone call said that the Trump-Putin conversation lasted almost 90 minutes, and that the two discussed “the current state and prospects of bilateral relations with a focus on economic cooperation,” according to the Russian news agency TASS.