President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit on July 7 in Hamburg. | AP Photo
Vowing “to move forward” in his administration’s relations with Russia, President Donald Trump said Sunday that he and President Vladimir Putin talked about “forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to safeguard against election hacking when the two leaders met in Germany last week.
Trump tweeted Sunday that he “strongly pressed” Putin twice during their two-hour conclave at the G-20 summit in Hamburg on Friday.
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“He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion,” Trump said.
It’s unclear, however, what the president’s opinion is. He told reporters on Thursday in Warsaw, Poland, that while he thinks Russia meddled in the 2016 election, “I think it could have been other people and other countries,” adding that “a lot of people” could have interfered.
Providing his own readout of his meeting with Putin in a string of Sunday morning tweets, Trump said the two negotiated a life-saving ceasefire in Syria but didn’t discuss sanctions. “Nothing,” he said, “will be done until the Ukrainian and Syrian problems are solved!”
Trump also declared that the time is now for the U.S. “to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” — including, apparently, on preventing election meddling and cyberattacks with the adversarial government the U.S. intelligence community pinpointed as the culprit behind interfering in the past presidential campaign to boost Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” Trump said, quickly turning his attention to the Democratic National Committee and his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“Questions were asked about why the CIA & FBI had to ask the DNC 13 times for their SERVER, and were rejected, still don’t have it,” he continued. “Fake News said 17 intel agencies when actually 4 (had to apologize). Why did Obama do NOTHING when he had info before election?”
Speaking Sunday on “Face the Nation,” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley should nobody should take Trump’s statements over the weekend to mean that the Trump administration was going to let Russia get away with meddling in the election.
“I think that President Trump was letting him know, “Look, we know you did it. This is being talked about.” I think that President Putin had to deny it, even though he knows that we know and I think we see where it goes from here,” Haley told John Dickerson on CBS. “You know — when you put President Trump in the room with any leader we can kind of cut through all the diplomatic tape and I think that’s exactly what happened.”
The prospect of partnering with Russia on a cybersecurity unit raised eyebrows, including from Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the Republican nomination. Rubio likened working with the Kremlin to prevent election meddling to partnering with Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime on a “Chemical Weapons Unit.” Assad is notorious for using deadly chemical weapons on his people, including children.
“While reality & pragmatism requires that we engage Vladimir Putin, he will never be a trusted ally or a reliable constructive partner,” Rubio said in a tweet. He added in another: “We have no quarrel with Russia or the Russian people. Problem is with Putin & his oppression, war crimes & interference in our elections.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also responded with a dig at Trump’s statements. “No art to this deal: What kind of “tough negotiator” goes into talks undermining his country’s own position, as you did attacking US intel?”
Speaking shortly thereafter on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Schiff said that it was “dangerously naive” to rely on the Russians for help. “The Russians want to take down liberal democracy,” he told Dana Bash.
Schiff said that if the U.S. was going to partner with Putin on cybersecurity, “We might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Russia.”
David Cohen contributed to this article.