President Donald Trump opened a much-anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin during the G20 Summit with concerns over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, in which the Russian president denied involvement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said following the tete-a-tete, according to the Associated Press.
After discussing bilateral problems such as Ukraine and Syria, “we returned to the problems of fighting terrorism and cybersecurity,” Russia’s Interfax reported Putin as saying afterwards in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Tillerson, who attended the small-group, private meeting, said Trump pressed Putin on the allegations of Russian hacking during the election season and, according to a Russian foreign minister cited by the AP, “accepted Putin’s assurances.” NBC reported that Tillerson left a news briefing without answering questions that asked whether or not Trump did in fact accept Putin’s statement.
On the campaign trail and well into his stint as president, Trump has repeatedly denied or questioned whether Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other interests in an attempt to discredit his election opponent Hillary Clinton and sway the election in his favor.
And, in fact, during a visit to Poland the day before the G20 meet-up Trump, who repeatedly denied or questioned Russia’s role in the hacks, at one point conjuring up an overweight hacker perched in a bedroom wreaking havoc, appeared to remain skeptical.
“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement,” he said. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”
But Ambassador Nikki Haley took to the weekend news shows, first telling CNN that “Everybody knows that they’re not just meddling in the United States’ election. They’re doing this across multiple continents, and they’re doing this in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries.” And then telling CBS that “President Trump still knows that they meddled. President Putin knows that they meddled, but he is never going to admit to it. And that’s all that happened.”
Thursday morning, before meeting with Putin, Trump had tweeted criticism of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta, who was a victim of a phishing attack that duped him into clicking on a phony Google login page that led to his volunteering his digital credentials and allowed hackers to access sensitive campaign emails, which were then released through WikiLeaks.
Security researchers said Podesta was hacked by the GRU, the top military foreign-intelligence service of the Russian Federation.
After the two heads of state wrapped up their meeting, which stretched more than two hours, the Russians requested proof of involvement, the AP reported.
Mans Trumo tweeted over the weekend that he and the Russian leader had “discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking and many other negative things, will be guarded,” an idea that lawmakers seemed to find both laughable and alarming. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called it about “the dumbest thing I ever heard.” And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted, “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.”