WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that he discussed “the Russia Hoax” with Russian President Vladimir Putin but did not raise with him concerns about Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
Trump and Putin spoke by phone for the first time since U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign was released. Mueller’s report found that the Russian government had interfered in the election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
Trump, talking to reporters as he met Slovak Republic Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, indicated that he and Putin only discussed Mueller’s conclusion that Trump did not collude with Russia in 2016.
Trump said Putin seemed amused. “He said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever,” said Trump.
Pressed on whether he urged Putin not to meddle in the upcoming 2020 election, when Trump will be seeking re-election, the president said the issue was not discussed.
“We didn’t discuss that. Really, we didn’t discuss it. We discussed five or six things,” he said.
In a tweet, Trump said he and Putin talked about “the Russia Hoax,” among other topics including nuclear arms, North Korea and Venezuela.
Trump has raised election meddling with Putin in past conversations, but has tended to play down the impact of what happened in 2016 out of concern that his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton might seem illegitimate.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, asked by reporters on the White House driveway why Trump did not press Putin on the issue, said: “The president’s been clear that no one needs to meddle in our election. He doesn’t need to do that every two seconds.”
Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish