Top advisers to President Donald Trump declined three times on Saturday to rebut claims from Russian officials that Trump had accepted their denials of alleged Russian interference in the US election.
Aboard Air Force One, chief economist Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin all declined to knock down those remarks when pressed by reporters, deferring instead to Trump himself.
“President Trump will be happy to make statements himself about that,” Mnuchin said. “But President Trump handled himself brilliantly. It was very clear that he made his position felt, and after a very substantive dialogue on this, they agreed to move on to other discussions.”
A senior administration official who spoke to CNN on Friday evening said Trump did not accept Putin’s denial of responsibility for the hacking.
Trump departed Germany earlier Saturday without taking questions from the press, unlike many of his counterparts. That included Russian President Vladimir Putin, who told reporters that Trump appeared to accept his assertion that Russia did not meddle in the US presidential contest.
“He asked a lot of questions on this matter,” Putin said at a Saturday press conference. “I answered as many as I could answer. I think he took it into consideration and agreed with it. But you should ask him what his opinion is on that.”
McMaster said the meeting was focused primarily on “what we are going to do going forward.” He listed Syria, Ukraine and North Korea as the major topics of discussion.
The meeting, which took place Friday, lasted for more than two hours. Neither Cohn, McMaster nor Mnuchin was present for the talks; only Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson represented the US.