President Donald Trump defended his decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite the ongoing Special Counsel investigation of Russia’s alleged attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m here today to continue the proud tradition of bold American diplomacy,” Trump said after meeting with Putin for two hours in Helsinki, Finland.
Trump said he was open to meeting with the Russian president again in the future.
“I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than risk peace in pursuit of politics,” he said.
Trump described Russia as a “competitor” with the United States, adding that he considered that a “compliment.” He blamed “both sides” for the complicating the relationship between the two countries and promised to work for closer relations.
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now,” he said. “However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.”
The joint press conference with Putin was the first with an American president since George W. Bush’s press conference with Putin in 2008 in Sochi. President Obama had two joint press conferences with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but none with Putin.
Despite interest from both leaders in cooperating on some issues, the press conference largely devolved into a focus on the ongoing investigation of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia into the election.
Putin denied meddling in the 2016 election, revealing that Trump mentioned it in their conversation.
“The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including the election process,” he said.
Trump declined to directly criticize Putin for attempting to influence the presidential election, even when asked by a reporter to do so.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said.
Trump blamed the Russia investigation for introducing complications into the relationship between the two countries.
“I think the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated,” he said, adding that the investigation was having a “negative impact” between Russia and the United States.