Tillerson: Trump pressed Putin on election interference

President Trump confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow’s election meddling during a face-to-face meeting in Germany on Friday, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson, who was present for the more than two-hour meeting, told reporters afterward that Trump opened the conversation by “raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Putin denied Russian involvement, Tillerson said, but Trump “pressed” him on the matter “on more than one occasion.”

Trump and Putin agreed to explore a “framework” around which they can work to better understand these types of cyberthreats, the U.S. diplomat said.

“The two leaders agreed that this is a substantial hindrance on the ability of us to move Russian-U.S. relationships forward and agreed to exchange further work 
regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries,” Tillerson said. “So more work to be done in that regard.”

{mosads}Still, Tillerson acknowledged that Putin’s insistence that Russia did not interfere would leave the two countries at an impasse, at least for now.

“It’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed-upon resolution of that question between the two nations,” he said. “So the question is, what do we do now?”

Trump and Putin also discussed the ongoing wars in Syria and Ukraine, two global hotspots that have pitted Washington against Moscow.

The U.S. and Russia, which have been on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, agreed on Friday to a cease-fire in the southwest corner of the country, news of which emerged during Trump’s meeting with Putin.

“I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that, we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence,” Tillerson said. “Once we defeat ISIS, we will work together toward a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.”

Trump’s confrontation with Putin over Russian meddling in the 2016 election should temporarily relieve some political pressure on him at home.

Democrats have been angered by Trump’s reluctance to accept the conclusions of his top intelligence agencies that Russia sought to sow discord in the election by targeting his challenger, Hillary Clinton, through an email hacking campaign.

Many believe Trump has been hesitant to embrace those findings because it would raise questions about the legitimacy of his victory.

At a Thursday news conference, Trump said he believed Russia was involved in the cyber campaign, but that also “other people and or countries” might have also played a part.

“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said at the time.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama, said later that day on CNN that he saw “no evidence” anyone besides Russia was involved in the attempted election meddling.

Critics have accused Trump of undermining his intelligence agencies by questioning their conclusions while on foreign soil.

A special counsel is investigating the matter, as well as possible collusion between the Kremlin and associates of Trump’s campaign. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations of collusion and has cast the special counsel as a partisan “witch-hunt.”

There is no evidence so far of collusion. The extent of Russian meddling — and the impact it may have had on the election — are still being debated.

The planned 30-minute meeting Friday between Trump and Putin at the annual G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany — their first-ever personal encounter — ran for 2 hours and 16 minutes as protests raged on the streets outside.

The meeting was small. In addition to Trump and Putin, only Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and two interpreters were present.

Trump has said he wants warmer U.S.-Russian relations, citing his desire for Russia’s assistance in the ongoing war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Pool reporters captured video of the two shaking hands and sitting in white seats next to one another before the meeting. Both leaned forward in their chairs and seemed at ease.

“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, and for the United States and for everybody concerned,” Trump said. “It’s an honor to be with you.”

“I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally Mr. President,” Putin said. “And I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive result.”

Updated at 2:20 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Hillary Clinton

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