President Donald Trump called Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election meddling a "disaster" as he stood next to Vladimir Putin at a news conference in Helsinki on Monday.
But Putin said that Trump had asked him about 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted in Mueller's investigation on Friday and that he would "look into it." He offered to allow Mueller to observe interrogations of the agents by Russian authorities, and said he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election.
"The probe is a disaster for our country," Trump said following a summit between the two leaders, after he was asked whether he holds Russia accountable at all for poor relations with the U.S. "It's kept us apart. It's kept us separated."
He added: "There was no collusion at all," referring to Mueller's investigation of ties between Trump's campaign and the Kremlin's activities.
Earlier Monday, Trump blamed Mueller's investigation into Russia's campaign meddling for hurting relations between the countries. A U.S. grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on Friday for their alleged involvement in hacking email accounts controlled by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign, casting a shadow over the Helsinki summit.
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded by tweet: "We agree."
Trump said that he again "addressed the issue of Russian interference in our elections" with the Russian leader during their meetings on Monday.
"I felt this was a message best delivered in person." The two leaders "spent a great deal of time talking about it," he said.
Putin "felt very strongly about it and has an interesting idea," Trump said.
Putin again denied that Moscow ever interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and proposed an "expert council" to improve relations between the countries. He said he would allow Mueller to observe interviews of the 12 agents if Russian authorities were allowed to interview Americans including Bill Browder, the Hermitage Capital chief executive who lobbied the U.S. government to adopt a law punishing Russian officials accused of human-rights abuses.
"Once again President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference in the American elections," Putin said. "I had to reiterate things I said several times. The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in internal American affairs including the election process."
Trump faced renewed pressure to confront Putin over its interference in the 2016 election after a grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers on Friday. The Russian agents are accused of hacking email accounts controlled by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign and publicizing messages.
But Trump downplayed the notion that there was much to be gained by pressing Putin on the issue, noting the Russian president had repeatedly denied Kremlin involvement. At a press conference Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump said not to expect a "Perry Mason" moment where his Russian counterpart owned up to the interference.
Trump said in an interview with CBS News broadcast on Sunday that the idea of asking Putin to extradite the agents hadn't occurred to him, and he might do it. But he has largely downplayed the indictments, repeatedly noting that the alleged activities occurred during the previous administration.
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