DANANG, Vietnam - In a brief meeting between the American and Russian Presidents, that both experts within the U.S. and in other parts of the world were watching closely - Vladimir Putin is said to have reiterated to Donald Trump that he didn’t meddle in the U.S. elections.
Trump met Putin on Saturday and told reporters post the meeting that he believes the Russian President’s denials that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
Following a meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Danang, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Hanoi, Trump said, "[Putin] said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”
When reporters questioned him about whether he believed Putin, Trump suggested he was keen to move on to other issues.
He said, “Look. I can't stand there and argue with him. I'd rather have him get out of Syria, I would rather get to work with him on the Ukraine."
Later, circling back to the meddling claims, Trump said that Putin has repeatedly told him, "'I didn't do that.' And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”
The American President added that he thinks Putin "is very insulted by" reports that the Kremlin did, in fact, interfere in U.S. elections last year and that this is "not a good thing for our country."
Trump however did not directly comment on whether he believed Putin's denials, which would be in contradiction to the U.S. intelligence community assessments that the Kremlin tried to interfere in the 2016 election.
Trump’s presidency has been dogged by the constant revelations made in the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling — including whether or not his campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Before he set out on his 13-day Asia trip, Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, along with campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous, were charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia probe.
On Saturday, Trump repeated his claim that the probes are a conspiracy by Democrats to distract from their electoral loss and weaken his presidency.
He again suggested investigators should turn their attention elsewhere.
Trump said, “That whole thing was set up by the Democrats. I mean they ought to look at (Tony) Podesta. They ought to look at all of the things they've done with the phony dossier."
Trump further blamed "this artificial Democratic hit job" for getting in the way of a productive relationship between the U.S. and Russia on issues like Syria and Ukraine.
He said “It gets in the way and that’s a shame. Because people will die because of it, and it’s a pure hit job, and it’s artificially induced and that’s shame. But anyway."
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters on Saturday, Putin echoed Trump's conspiratorial tone, claiming connections between Russia and Manafort were fabricated by Trump's political opponents.
He said, “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the U.S. is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle. Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials, I only found out about that yesterday from (spokesman Dmitry) Peskov. I don't know anything about it. I think these are some sort of fantasies."
He added that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's Russia connections could be explained by his business interests.
Adding, “I think he did business before... he signed contracts, perhaps with Russian companies too. That has nothing to do with politics."
Later, Trump said that the two leaders didn't spend too much time on the subject of meddling during their meeting on the sidelines of an economic summit because Trump wanted to focus on Syria.
Over the summer, Trump had a lengthy meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany at the G20 summit, following which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters afterwards that Trump had accepted Putin’s denials about interfering in the 2016 election.
Soon after, a Trump administration official said Lavrov's account was "not accurate" while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Trump pressed President Putin "on more than one occasion" on the meddling issue.
On Saturday, both the leaders offered praise for one another, with Trump saying, "We seem to have a very good feeling for each other, a good relationship considering we don't know each other well."
Putin, meanwhile, described Trump as "a well-mannered person and comfortable to deal with.”