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Speaking to reporters before departing for his rally on Thursday, President Trump said he did not bring up the topic of Russian interference in his phone call with President Vladimir Putin, again casting aspersion on the warnings of the U.S. intelligence community.

REPORTER: Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in the U.S. elections right now. Is that --
TRUMP: "Oh you don't really believe this. Do you believe this? Ok, fine. We didn't talk about it. I spoke with President Putin of Russia yesterday. They are having massive fires in their forest. I've never seen anything like it. I just offered our assistance because we are very good at putting out forest fires frankly. If they should need it, I offered our assistance. We had a good talk, a short talk but a good talk, and I think he appreciated it."

Why it matters: The few moments in which special counsel Robert Mueller drifted from "yes," "no" or non-answers at last week's hearings were to explicitly warn lawmakers that Russia is continuing its election interference activities "as we sit here." Mueller's warning is also the consensus of the current U.S. intelligence community — including Trump's hand-picked FBI Director Christopher Wray, who testified earlier this month: "My view is until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough."

  • And yet, President Trump continues to downplay concerns that Russia will insert itself into the 2020 presidential election, viewing Mueller's warnings through the lens of the "collusion" allegations that have dogged his presidency for the last two years.

Go deeper: Senate Intel releases 1st volume of report on 2016 Russian interference

Go deeper

Former D.C. Guard alleges Army Generals lied about Jan. 6 response

Members of the National Guard and Capitol police keep a small group of pro-Trump demonstrators away from the Capitol following the insurrection on Jan. 6. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A former D.C. National Guard official has alleged that top Army generals "lied" to Congress in their testimony on the U.S. Capitol riot, Politico first reported Monday.

The big picture: Col. Earl Matthews, who was serving on Jan. 6, alleges in a memo that the official version on the military response is "worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist" and that the Pentagon inspector general's November report on it features "myriad inaccuracies, false or misleading statements, or examples of faulty analysis."

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.