Donald Trump Called Reporter After Vladimir Putin Meeting to Say He Believed Russian President's Denial of Election Interference: Report

President Donald Trump phoned a reporter from The New York Times after a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the 2017 G20 summit, saying he believed the Russian leader's defense against election hacking allegations.

Trump told the journalist that Putin had said, "If we did [hack the election], we wouldn't have gotten caught because we're professionals," the Times reported on Wednesday. "I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world," the president argued, siding with his Russian counterpart's defense.

When asked how he compared Putin's denial to the conclusions of former FBI Director James Comey, then-CIA Director John Brennan and James Clapper, who at the time was the National Intelligence director, all of whom assessed that Russia had worked to hack the 2016 presidential election, Trump dismissed the men outright. He referred to Brennan and Clapper as "the most political" intelligence chiefs he knew, while referring to Comey as "a leaker."

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President Donald Trump chats with Russian President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, on November 11, 2017. The president phoned a New York Times reporter after a meeting with the Russian leader at the 2017 G20 summit and said he believed Putin’s denial of election hacking. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

The report came after a series of revelations from U.S. media, detailing how the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president following his May 2017 decision to fire Comey. The Washington Post also reported over the weekend that Trump has gone to unusual lengths to conceal the details of his conversations with Putin, despite his 2016 campaign team being the subject of an ongoing investigation led by Robert Mueller into alleged collusion with the Kremlin.

In the Wednesday report, The Times also outlined details about the way in which the president has worked to hide his communications with his Russian counterpart from officials in his administration and the State Department. The president has asked his interpreter for their notes and forbade the linguist from disclosing his conversations with Putin to administration officials. He also spoke with Putin through the Russian president's translator, meaning no American record of the dialogue exists.

"What's disconcerting is the desire to hide information from your own team," Andrew S. Weiss, who served as a Russia adviser to former President Bill Clinton, told the Times. "The fact that Trump didn't want the State Department or members of the White House team to know what he was talking with Putin about suggests it was not about advancing our country's national interest but something more problematic."

Trump along with Putin's government have pushed back against the allegations of collusion, insisting that the current White House has been exceptionally tough on Moscow. The Trump administration has added harsh sanctions targeting Russian business leaders, government officials and oligarchs. It has armed Ukraine's military against Russian-backed separatist rebels, and carried out military strikes against Syrian forces, which are supported by the Kremlin. The president has also repeatedly attempted to derail a gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany.

I have been FAR tougher on Russia than Obama, Bush or Clinton. Maybe tougher than any other President. At the same time, & as I have often said, getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. I fully expect that someday we will have good relations with Russia again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2019

But Trump has spoken fondly of Putin as well, and urged the U.S. to improve ties with Moscow, seeming to dismiss concerns about the malign activities of Russian intelligence agencies against his country on several occasions. The president's controversial December announcement that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Syrian conflict has also been classified as a win for the Kremlin by many analysts.

On Monday, The Times reported that Trump alarmed senior administration officials last year when he pushed to withdraw the U.S. from NATO. Although the president later insisted the alliance is "very strong," analysts have said even suggesting such a move would be a win for Moscow.

"Withdrawing from NATO—even discussing withdrawing from NATO—would be disastrous for the security of the United States," Clapper told CNN on Tuesday. Withdrawing from the alliance "would play into Putin's hands," he said.