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.