President Donald Trump told reporters Saturday that he spoke briefly with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Danang, Vietnam.
The White House had previously said the two leaders would not have a formal meeting during the conference, but they did meet for about five minutes to discuss Syria.
"President Trump and President Putin today, meeting on the margins of the APEC conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, confirmed their determination to defeat ISIS in Syria," the countries said in a joint statement. "They expressed their satisfaction with successful U.S.-Russia enhanced de-confliction efforts between U.S. and Russian military professionals that have dramatically accelerated ISIS’s losses on the battlefield in recent months."
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One later en route to Hanoi for a state banquet, Trump said he brought up allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian operatives attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our elections,” Trump said. “He did not do what they are saying he did."
He then suggested that the accusation, which multiple intelligence agencies have agreed upon, is insulting to Putin and bad for U.S.-Russia relations.
“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump said. “But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
In the past, Trump has expressed skepticism about the intelligence community's assessment that Russia was responsible for hacking and internet postings intended to affect the election. On Saturday, he again dismissed the issue, which is under investigation by multiple Republican-led congressional committees and Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as a Democrat-inspired "artificial barrier" to his relationship with Putin.
Trump's former campaign chairman and another aide have been indicted on unrelated money laundering and conspiracy charges as a result of the investigation, and one former foreign policy adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about contacts with Russia.
"Having a good relationship with Russia's a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way," Trump said, according to the Associated Press, adding, "People will die because of it."
He insisted there was no point in arguing with Putin about it, so they moved on to talking about conflicts in Syria and North Korea.
Although Trump has often been complimentary and deferential to the Russian leader, Putin told CNN at a briefing Saturday the U.S. and Russia "have not come out of the crisis state yet."