WASHINGTON – President Trump said Wednesday that Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin told him – twice – that he was not involved in any plot to interfere in last year's U.S. election.
"I said, 'did you do it?' And he said no, I did not. Absolutely not," Trump told Reuters. "I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not."
Trump told Reuters that he discussed the election meddling allegations with Putin for the first 20 to 25 minutes of their more than two-hour meeting last Friday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
After the meeting in Germany , Putin said Trump asked many questions on Russian hacking. "I think he was satisfied with my answers," Putin said Saturday. "And I think he noted it and he agreed with it. I think it’s better to ask him."
Asked Wednesday if he believes Putin's denials, Trump told Reuters: "Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is."
The president added: "Somebody did say if he [Putin] did do it you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point."
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Putin orchestrated a campaign of cyberattacks on Democratic political organizations and leaks of stolen material, in order to influence the election on favor of Trump.
The president has consistently cast doubt on this assessment, and it's unclear even at this point whether Trump agrees with Putin's denials.
In the same Reuters interview, Trump also said he was unaware of son Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting last year with a Russian lawyer whom he believed had derogatory information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this," president Trump said.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Russians who sought to hack Democrats close to Clinton.
Lawmakers investigating Russian election interference have said they want to talk to Trump Jr. about his meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June of 2016.
Trump Jr. said in recent days that he regretted how he handled the matter, believing at the time that the meeting was part of campaign opposition research. He said the meeting took place before all the publicity about Russian efforts to interfere in the election.
His father, the president, told Reuters: "I think many people would have held that meeting."
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