Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018
Donald Trump has told President Vladimir Putin that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 US Presidential election was a “Russian hoax”.
Trump took his ongoing effort to bury the Mueller Report on his links with Russia into a Friday phone call to Putin. The two men discussed the Venezuelan crisis — in which Trump’s agencies and Moscow are on opposite sides — and North Korea, but the headlines were stolen by Trump’s proclamation over Putin’s intervention on his behalf.
The conversation had echoes of the July 2018 summit, in which Trump chose Putin over US intelligence agencies when asked about Russian hacking and dissemination of material seeking to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Trump said he did not broach the threat of Russian interference in future US elections, despite withspread concerns among US officials and some legislators.
Instead, Trump tweeted afterwards about the “Witch Hunt” and put the Mueller Report — which, despite White House spin, detailed possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and its intermediaries and Trump’s obstruction of justice — alongside international issues.
….We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the “Russian Hoax.” Very productive talk!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2019
On Saturday, Trump responded to media report, “Look how they have misled you on ‘Russia Collusion’. The World can be a better and safer place.”
Trump told reporters that when the subject of Russia’s interference came up — he did not say how it was raised:
[Putin] actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.
A White House official later explained, without criticizing Trump or refuting the false “No Collusion” assertion, that the call was not on video.
Trump had meant to say Putin had “laughed, chuckled” rather than smiled, the official said.
Trump’s insults were again reserved for Robert Mueller, complaining that the Special Counsel had wasted $35 million over two years and falsely saying that the investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by him. Covering up his refusal of a face-to-face encounter with Mueller, he said:
I didn’t have to let him interview anybody. I didn’t have to give any documents. I was totally transparent because I knew I did nothing wrong.
In contrast to Trump’s effusiveness, the Kremlin made no reference to the Mueller Report in its summary of the conversation.
Trump Sides With Putin Over Venezuela?
The call also revived the pattern of Trump’s likely preference for Putin over US agencies on international matter.
Russia has provided essential backing for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s hold on power despite economic crisis and opposition protests, which are supported by US agencies.
Last Tuesday, Parliament leader Juan Guaidó declared the “final phase” of the effort to replace Maduro, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton providing loud support. But Venezuela’s armed forces held firm behind the President, and Guaidó’s effort for military involvement in “peaceful change” did not succeed.
US officials — but, significantly, not Trump — blamed Russia, saying Moscow had insisted on Maduro staying in Caracas when he wanted to leave.
Trump ignored the developments as he said Putin “is not looking at all to get involved, other than he’d like to see something positive happen”.
The Kremlin maintained some pressure on Washington, condemning “outside interference in the country’s internal affairs”.
Trump also made no mention of any differences with Putin over North Korea.
The Russian President met Kim Jong-un last week as North Korea, defying Trump’s summit diplomacy, resumed testing of missiles.