During his Asia trip, President Donald Trump was back on the defensive over Russian election meddling. Trump says that he considers President Vladimir Putin`s denials sincere, dismissing former U.S. intelligence officials as "political hacks" and accusing Democrats of trying to sabotage relations between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin had again vehemently insisted — this time on the sidelines of an economic summit in Vietnam — that Moscow had not interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. Trump declined to say whether he believed Putin, but he made clear he was not interested in dwelling on the issue.
"He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did," Trump said as he travelled to Hanoi, the second-to-last stop of his Asia trip.
"Every time he sees me, he said: `I didn`t do that.` And I believe — I really believe — that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said. He called the accusation an "artificial barrier" erected by Democrats — once again casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the election to help the Republican Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election to try to help Trump win. But Trump called the former heads of those agencies "political hacks" and argued there is plenty of reason to be suspicious of their findings.
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, but the two spoke informally several times and reached an agreement on several principles for the future of war-torn Syria.
In a tweet sent Sunday from Hanoi, Trump bashed the "haters and fools" he said are questioning his efforts to improve relations with Russia and accused critics of "playing politics" and hurting the country.
Trump traveled to Hanoi for a brief state visit. He was due in the Philippines later Sunday for a pair of summits that will close out his trip.