Trump, in an interview with Axios published Wednesday, also continued to downplay the validity of US intelligence and established a moral equivalence between the possibility of Russia supporting efforts to kill US troops and the US campaign to help anti-US forces. Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
“I never discussed it with Putin. I would, I have no problem with that, ”Trump said in a clip of the interview, which is scheduled to air on HBO on Monday. HBO is owned by WarnerMedia, the same parent company as CNN.
The president said he spoke to Putin by phone last Thursday.
“No, it was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly, this is an issue that a lot of people have called fake news,” Trump said in the Axios interview.
Trump had previously declined to say whether the issue arose between him and Putin, telling reporters on Monday that he did not discuss appeals with foreign leaders, although the White House regularly publishes readings of these types of calls and that the president discusses frequently. Trump and Putin have had at least one call in the past five months, according to a CNN tally.
During the interview with Axios, Trump was pressed to find out who specifically said the reports were “fake news.”
“A lot of people,” Trump replied, referring to “people from the Bush administration.”
The intelligence of the premium, he says, “never reached my desk.”
“If he had reached my desk, I would have done something about it. He never made it to my office, ”he said, adding that he was reading his briefing book and that he“ (understands) extraordinarily well. ”
He said the two discussed nuclear proliferation and “many things.”
Asked about Russia’s supply of arms to the Taliban, Trump also said, “Well, we also provided arms when they were fighting Russia,” adding that he had not questioned John Nicholson, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, about it.
The White House said there was a lack of consensus in the intelligence community on bonus intelligence. General Frank McKenzie, the principal U.S. general overseeing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan, said earlier this month that intelligence about Russian agents offering bonuses to militants linked to the Taliban was “very concerning” but that the information was not strong enough to stand in court. He also said at the time that he was not convinced the bonus program was directly responsible for the deaths of US personnel.
Trump has repeatedly surrendered to Putin when presented with US intelligence alleging harmful Russian activity. Most memorable, he publicly sided with the Russian president in 2018 when he took Putin’s denial of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election over US intelligence findings, although Trump did later stated that he had misspoken.
Trump also downplayed Putin’s authoritarian tendencies and Russian unrest. Asked about Putin’s behavior in 2017, Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? “
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.