Trump claims Putin wanted Clinton to win presidency
Trump is facing intense criticism over his campaign’s relationship with Russia
US president Donald Trump, battling allegations that Russia helped him win the White House, claimed last night Vladimir Putin would have preferred a Hillary Clinton victory - despite US intelligence saying the Russian leader directed a covert effort to help defeat her.
“We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I’m a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated,” Mr Trump said.
“That’s why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn’t want to see that.”
Mr Trump said he got along “very, very well” with the long-time Russian leader, whom he met in Hamburg last week. “So what I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think ‘probably not,’ because when I want a strong military” he said.
“When I want tremendous energy - we’re opening up coal, we’re opening up natural gas, we’re opening up fracking, all the things that he would hate - but nobody ever mentions that,” he said.
On Saturday, Mr Putin told reporters he had hopes for the bilateral relationship after meeting Mr Trump.
“The Trump that you see on TV is very different than the real Trump,” Mr Putin told reporters at the G20 in Germany. “He perfectly understands whom he is talking to and answers questions quickly. I think personal relations were established.”
Decrying what he called a political “witch hunt”, Mr Trump has also come to the defence of his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, after the release of emails showing his embrace of a Russian offer to provide derogatory information about Clinton during the campaign.
The email exchange has been described in some quarters as a possible “smoking gun” in the ongoing investigation by an independent prosecutor into whether Mr Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to get him elected.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Mr Trump said he did not fault his son for meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential election campaign and that he was unaware of the meeting until a few days ago.
Asked if he knew that his son was meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year, the president told Reuters in a White House interview: “No, that I didn’t know until a couple of days ago when I heard about this.”
Mr Trump Jr eagerly agreed to meet the woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s official support for his father’s campaign, according to emails the son released on Tuesday.
Seated at his Oval Office desk, Mr Trump said he did not fault his son for holding the meeting, writing it off as a decision made in the heat of an upstart, non-traditional campaign. “I think many people would have held that meeting,” he said.
“It was a 20-minute meeting, I guess, from what I’m hearing,” Mr Trump said. “Many people, and many political pros, said everybody would do that.”
The emails were the most concrete evidence that Trump campaign officials might have been willing to accept Russian help to win the November 8th election, a subject that has cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency and prompted investigations by the US justice department and Congress.
Donald Trump Jr, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, said: “In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.”
In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Mr Putin if he was involved in what US intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not.
Mr Trump said he spent the first 20 or 25 minutes of his more than two-hour meeting with Putin last Friday in Germany on the election meddling subject.
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Mr Trump said.
Asked if he believed Mr Putin’s denial, Mr Trump paused.
“Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process. So something happened and we have to find out what it is,” he said.
About Mr Putin, he added: “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.”
Meanwhile, Mr Trump is due to meet French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday.
He began a 24-hour visit to the French capital on Thursday morning, where Mr Macron will escort him to Napoleon’s tomb, take him to dinner at the Eiffel Tower and watch the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elysees.