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‘He said he didn’t meddle’: Trump talks with Putin about U.S. elections, Syria in brief interactions

HANOI — President Trump said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin again denied his nation tampered in the U.S. presidential election last year, during brief conversations on the sidelines of an international summit.

Trump told reporters that he and Putin had more than one informal discussion after crossing paths at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Danang, Vietnam, before Trump flew to Hanoi for a bilateral meeting Sunday with Vietnamese leaders.

The conversations mostly centered on the war in Syria, Trump said, but he added that he pressed Putin on Moscow’s role in attempting to tamper in the elections.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times … He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russian hackers stole thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and made them public, while also spreading misinformation in an attempt to help Trump beat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump, however, has said he does not believe that Russia actively sought to help him.

Congress and a special counsel, former FBI chief Robert S. Mueller III, are heading separate investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian agents during the campaign. Mueller’s team recently brought indictments against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a lower-level campaign aide in connection with that probe.

On Saturday, Trump did not answer when asked during the Air Force One flight to Hanoi whether he believed Putin’s denial.

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

White House aides had said before the APEC summit that Trump had no formal meeting scheduled with Putin, in part because of scheduling conflicts. They acknowledged, however, that it was possible the two leaders might chat if they bumped into one another. Trump and Putin shook hands at an APEC leaders’ dinner on Friday and stood next to one another in a “family photo” of the leaders on Saturday.

Trump met with Putin in the summer on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany and also spoke extensively at a dinner at that event, a meeting White House officials did not disclose until after it was made public by Ian Bremmer, president of a global risk consulting firm.

Nakamura reported from Danang, Vietnam.

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