Trump appears to make light of Russian meddling in polls

"Don't meddle in the election, please," US President Donald Trump (right) said to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit.
"Don't meddle in the election, please," US President Donald Trump (right) said to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit. PHOTO: AFP

OSAKA • United States President Donald Trump yesterday sardonically asked his Russian counterpart to please not meddle in US elections, appearing to make light of a scandal that led to an investigation of his campaign's contact with the Kremlin during the 2016 elections.

A two-year investigation into a Moscow-run influence campaign during the election has hung over Mr Trump's presidency, frustrating the Republican President who has said he seeks better relations with Russia.

Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were speaking to reporters in Osaka, ahead of their first formal face-to-face meeting since a controversial high-profile summit in Helsinki last July.

Asked by reporters whether he would raise the issue during their meeting, held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 Summit, Mr Trump said "yes, of course I will", drawing a laugh from Mr Putin.

Mr Trump then turned to Mr Putin to give the directive twice, as he pointed a finger at the Russian leader.

"Don't meddle in the election, please," Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump's critics have accused him of being too friendly with Mr Putin and castigated him for failing to publicly confront the Russian leader in Helsinki after US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian operatives had hacked into Democratic Party computers and used fake social media accounts to attack his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

 
 
 

A US special counsel, Mr Robert Mueller, spent two years investigating whether there were any ties between Mr Trump's campaign and Moscow. Mr Mueller found that Russia did meddle in the election but found no evidence that the Trump campaign illegally conspired with it to influence the vote.

Relations between the two countries have been sour for years, worsening after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war.

In a recent television interview, Mr Putin said that relations between Moscow and Washington were "getting worse and worse".

Mr Trump has sought to turn the page to work with Mr Putin on issues such as reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Yesterday, he emphasised the positive.

"It is a great honour to be with President Putin," he told reporters. "We have many things to discuss, including trade and including some disarmament."

Mr Trump and Mr Putin had been scheduled to meet at the end of last November at the last G-20 in Buenos Aires, but Mr Trump cancelled the meeting as he flew to Argentina, citing Russia's seizure of Ukrainian navy ships and sailors.

In May, they had their first extensive phone conversation in months. Mr Trump said they talked about a new accord to limit nuclear arms that could eventually include China.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin yesterday invited Mr Trump to attend the May 9 Victory Day commemorative events in Moscow next year.

"We have had great meetings. We have had a very, very good relationship," Mr Trump said yesterday. "A lot of very positive things are going to come out of the relationship."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2019, with the headline 'US leader appears to make light of Russian meddling in polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe