President Donald Trump said he believed President Vladimir Putin was sincere in his denials of interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Picture: Kham/Pool Photo via AP

Danang — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he believed President Vladimir Putin was sincere in his denials of interference in the 2016 presidential elections, calling questions about Moscow’s meddling a politically motivated “hit job” that was hindering cooperation with Russia on life-or-death issues.

Speaking after meeting privately with Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Trump said that he had again asked whether Russia had meddled in the contest, but that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Putin.

Trump said it was time to move past the issue so that the United States and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, solving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine.

“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again,” Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for more meetings.

Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denials, but his account of the conversation indicated he was far more inclined to accept the Russian president’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Putin directed an elaborate effort to interfere in the vote. The CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all determined that Russia meddled in the election.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of Putin. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

His remarks came as the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia deepened, with disclosures over the past two weeks showing that there were more contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians than were previously known, and that senior campaign officials were aware of them.

The comments inspired immediate ridicule from Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the election.

“You know who else is insulted by it, Mr. President? The American people,” Schiff said on Twitter. “You believe a foreign adversary over your own intelligence agencies.”

The New York Times