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Trump says he did not confront Putin on election interference in post-Mueller call

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE said he did not confront Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinBiden rolls out national security team The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Putin not ready to recognize Biden win MORE about interfering in U.S. elections during a lengthy phone call earlier Friday, their first known conversation since the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office they briefly addressed the outcome of the report, but lashed out at NBC's Kristen Welker who interjected to ask whether he warned Putin not to interfere, telling her “you are very rude.”

“We didn’t discuss that. Really, we didn’t discuss it,” Trump said when asked a second time, adding they instead “went into great detail” on issues such as Venezuela, North Korea and nuclear arms control.

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Trump added that when the report was brought up, Putin “sort of smiled” and said “something to the effect that it started off being a mountain and ended up being a mouse.” 

The president said he agreed with Putin’s assessment of the Mueller report.

Trump addressed his conversation with Putin hours after White House press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSarah SandersSarah Sanders on Trump's reported war dead criticism: 'Those comments didn't happen' Sarah Sanders memoir reportedly says Trump joked she should hook up with Kim Jong Un McEnany stamps her brand on White House press operation MORE Sanders informed reporters of the call, which she said lasted more than an hour.

Sanders said the two men discussed Mueller’s probe “very, very briefly” but dodged when asked if Trump addressed the subject of election interference.

“It was discussed essentially in the context of that it’s over and there was no collusion, which I’m pretty sure both leaders were well aware of long before this call took place,” she said. “Now they moved on to talk about those topics.”

Trump said the discussion was focused on brokering a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and possibly China, as well as the crisis in Venezuela and denuclearizing North Korea.

The president’s comments are sure to reignite criticism that he is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s attempts to meddle in elections. Those criticisms reached a fever pitch last summer when Trump failed to publicly confront Putin during a summit meeting about his government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s 448-page report determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election “in systematic fashion,” an effort that included a social media campaign and the release of stolen documents from key Democrats in order to help Trump.

The special counsel concluded there were multiple “Russian offers of assistance” to the Trump campaign and in some cases, the campaign was “receptive to the offer” but other times “campaign officials shied away.”

Trump has instead seized on Mueller’s finding that the Trump campaign and Moscow did not engage in a criminal conspiracy, claiming there was “no collusion” and calling the report a “complete and total exoneration.”

Members of Trump’s administration have cautioned that Russia still poses a real threat to the nation’s elections.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week that Russia is committed to interfering again in the 2020 contests, calling it a “significant counterterrorism threat.” But Trump has reportedly bristled at their warnings behind closed doors because he sees questions about Russian influence as undermining the legitimacy of his victory in 2016. 

Sanders defended the Trump’s handling of the Putin call and faulted former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCentral Asia is changing: the Biden administration should pay close attention MSNBC to debut docuseries 'Obama' Can Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? MORE for not doing enough to deter the interference campaign in 2016.

“We’re actually doing things to prevent everybody from meddling in our elections, something the other administration failed to do,” she told reporters later Friday. “The president's been clear that no one needs to meddle in our election. He doesn't need to do that every two seconds.”

Updated 4:09 p.m.