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US and Russian diplomats share conflicting accounts of Trump-Putin meeting

A bilateral meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday resulted in a he said/he said dispute regarding the details of the foreign leaders' meeting.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov claimed Trump “accepted” Putin’s assertion that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election. His statement is at odds with what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said about the meeting.

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Tillerson said Trump opened the conversation with Putin by confronting him over Russian cyberattacks during the campaign. The top U.S. diplomat claimed Trump continued to press Putin on the matter despite the Russian president’s repeated denials.

But speaking after the meeting, Lavrov told Reuters that Trump accepted Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the election.

"U.S. President Trump said that he heard firm assertions from Russian President Putin that it is not true and that Russian authorities have not meddled in the elections," Lavrov said. “[Trump] said that he accepts these assertions. That's it.”

In response, White House officials are pointing to Tillerson’s briefing with reporters, in which he detailed how the U.S. and Russia appear to be at an impasse on the issue because Putin will not acknowledge wrongdoing.

“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.”

Tillerson said the countries agreed to further bilateral talks on how to ensure the integrity of U.S. elections against Russian cyberattacks.

“[We are not] dismissing the issue in any way,” Tillerson said. “That is why we've agreed to continue engagement and discussion around how do we secure a commitment that the Russian government has no intention of and will not interfere in our affairs in the future, nor in the affairs of others, and how do we create a framework in which we have some capability to judge what is happening in the cyber world and who to hold accountable.”

“The president rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point,” he added.

Still, Trump’s critics are pointing to his remarks at a news conference Thursday as evidence he refuses to accept the conclusions of top intelligence agencies that Russia sought to sow discord in the election by targeting his challenger, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' Why does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants MORE, 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.

On Thursday, Trump said he believed Russia was involved in the cybercampaign, but that “other people and or countries” might have also played a part.

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