Shared from the 6/29/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Trump, Putin banter about ‘fake news,’ election meddling in joint appearance

Erin Schaff / New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with President Donald Trump on Friday for the first time in almost a year at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

OSAKA, Japan — Smiling together on a global stage, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin cheerfully dismissed Russian interference in U.S. elections, shared their contempt for the world’s news media and generally flaunted their personal bond on Friday.

That was one day after the Russian leader praised the president of the United States for his nationalist world views and vigorously declared the days of the West’s liberals are dying if not already dead.

For some time, Trump has defied the once-entrenched Republican distrust if not outright hatred of the powerful nation at the heart of the former Soviet Union. But Friday’s joint appearance seemed to go even further.

As the two leaders sat down for their first meeting in nearly a year, a reporter asked Trump if he would warn Putin not to meddle in America’s upcoming 2020 election.

“Of course,” the president replied. Then he turned to Putin and facetiously said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” He playfully repeated the request while pointing at Putin, who laughed.

The exchange at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka echoed one of the defining moments of Trump’s presidency from a year ago in Helsinki. There, Trump pointedly did not admonish Putin about election interference.

Putin disputes special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help Trump win. Putin told the Financial Times this week it was “mythical interference.”

“What happened in reality? Mr. Trump looked into his opponents’ attitude to him and saw changes in American society, and he took advantage of this,” Putin told the newspaper.

Putin, who has highlighted populist movements in Europe and America, praised Trump for trying to stem the flow of migrants and drugs from Mexico and expressed aview that liberalism — the main political ideology in the West since the end of World War II — has outlived its days.

“The liberal idea has become obsolete,” he said in the interview.

The two leaders also bonded Friday over their mutual disdain for “fake news.”

Trump eyed the reporters at a photo opportunity with the Russian leader and told him, “Get rid of them, fake news. You don’t have the problem in Russia. We have it. You don’t have it.”

Putin responded, “Yes, yes, we have it. The same.”

The two men shared a laugh at that before sitting down for their first face-to-face discussion since the Mueller report was issued in April. The special counsel concluded Moscow extensively interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign but said he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for kidding around about election meddling. He said the joke is on America and “Putin’s the only one laughing.”

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