Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told an associate he was “stunned” by how President Donald Trump approached the topic of the Kremlin’s election interference during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
Trump began the meeting by reportedly saying to Putin, “I’m going to get this out of the way: Did you do this?”
The Times added that Trump’s aides weren’t entirely sure if he would broach Russia’s election hack during the meeting, “although he was leaning towards challenging” Putin on the subject.
The US and Russia have offered differing accounts of how the conversation played out. Tillerson told reporters Trump and Putin had a “robust and lengthy exchange” about it and that Putin vehemently denied Russia had disrupted the electoral process. He later said the US-Russia relationship was “too important not to move forward” from last year’s events. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration plans to penalise Russia for its actions. Trump tweeted Sunday morning that “sanctions were not discussed.”
But Tillerson’s Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, characterised the conversation differently. “US President Trump said that he heard firm assertions from Russian President Putin that it is not true and that Russian authorities have not meddled in the elections,” Lavrov told reporters at the G20 summit. Trump “said that he accepts these assertions — that’s it,” Lavrov continued.
Putin also said during a press conference on Saturday that Trump “agreed” Russia didn’t hack the US election. “He asked many questions on the subject, I tried to answer them all,” Putin said. “It seems to me that he has taken note of that and agreed, but it’s better to ask him about his attitude.”
“It seemed to me that he was satisfied with the answers,” the Russian president added.
Trump has not yet held a press conference to address the topic, and he did not publicly speak on it until Sunday morning, when he fired off a series of tweets.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion,” Trump wrote. “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
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