When President Donald Trump said Monday that “I don’t see any reason why” Russia would meddle in the 2016 presidential elections, it was the latest in a long and conflicting string of comments about both Russia’s election interference and President Vladimir Putin himself.
Since running for president, Trump’s characterization of the Russian leader and his relationship with him has shifted – and shifted again.
In 2013, the president said he had a relationship with Putin. As a candidate in 2016, Trump said he didn’t know Putin. As president, Trump has at times insisted that election interference likely wasn’t from Russia, and at other times acknowledged that Russia could have played a role in hacking efforts related to the election. Trump has said the U.S. must be smart and strategic in dealing with Russia. But on Monday he called special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible ties to Trump’s campaign — which resulted in another indictment Friday of 12 Russians military intelligence officers for hacking ahead of the 2016 elections — “a disaster for our country.”
Trump also said Monday that he held “both countries” responsible for past mistakes, a claim that was condemned by many elected officials at home, including from many Republican lawmakers.
Here are some key moments in Trump’s relationship with Putin and what both leaders have said about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
June 8, 2013: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” Trump, then the co-owner of the pageant, wrote on Twitter.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
June 2013: Trump sent a letter to Putin inviting him to the Miss Universe pageant, according to the Washington Post.
Nov. 9, 2013: The Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. “I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told MSNBC.
(When asked by a reporter at Monday’s news conference about whether he has damaging information on Trump, Putin said he did not know who Trump was when the 2013 beauty pageant took place because Trump was a private citizen at the time.)
Nov. 10, 2013: Trump tweets: “I just got back from Russia-learned lots & lots. Moscow is a very interesting and amazing place! U.S. MUST BE VERY SMART AND VERY STRATEGIC.”
I just got back from Russia-learned lots & lots. Moscow is a very interesting and amazing place! U.S. MUST BE VERY SMART AND VERY STRATEGIC.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2013
May 27, 2014: “I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin who could not have been nicer,” Trump said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Putin “does not like or respect President Obama, so you have a problem,” Trump said earlier in the speech.
Oct. 14, 2014: Trump comes to Putin’s defense over accusations that Russian actors were responsible for the Malaysia Airlines crash.
“It’s disgusting and disgraceful, but Putin and Russia say they didn’t do it, the other side said they did, no one really knows who did it, probably Putin knows who did it,” Trump said. “Possibly it was Russia but they are totally denying it. … But they’re saying it wasn’t them. The other side says it is them. And we’re going to go through that arguing for probably for 50 years and nobody is ever going to know. Probably was Russia.”
Sept. 16, 2015: “I will get along, I think, with Putin,” Trump said at a Republican primary debate.
Nov. 10, 2015: Trump said at a GOP debate that he got to know Putin “very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates … we did well that night.”
TIME and other outlets reported that the two leaders were not in the same place that night.
Dec. 17, 2015: Trump and Putin exchanged praise.
“He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that,” Putin said. “But it’s not our business to judge his merits, it’s up to the voters of the United States.”
“He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level [of] relations, a deeper level of relations with Russia,” Putin added. “How can we not welcome that? Of course, we welcome it.”
(Whether Putin used “flamboyant” or another word became a point of debate; translation experts say Putin used a Russian word for “bright,” but some outlets reported he used the word “brilliant,” a debate that continued for several months).
“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” Trump said in his own statement. “I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”
Feb. 17, 2016: Trump defended himself against those calling for him to push back on praise from Putin. “What, he calls me a genius and I’m going to disavow it? Are you crazy? … I’m not going to disavow [it]” Trump said during a South Carolina campaign event.
“I think I’d have a good relationship with Putin. I mean, who knows?” he added.
June 17, 2016: “I only said that he was a ‘bright person.’ Isn’t he bright? He is. I did not say anything else about him,” Putin told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
“We never interfere in other countries’ internal politics, especially the U.S. We’re ready to work with any president that the U.S. people vote for,” Putin said that day at the the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, adding he was open to Trump’s pledge of a “full-scale resumption” of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
July 27, 2016: “I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said at a news conference in Miami. “He said one nice thing about me. … I never met Putin.”
In the same conference, he called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing, I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Sept. 8, 2016: “Well, I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?” Trump said at a forum. “The fact is, look, it’s not going to get him anywhere. I’m a negotiator.”
Sept 8., 2016: Trump said in an interview with Russia Today that Russian interference in the election was “pretty unlikely.”
“I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows, but I think it’s pretty unlikely,” he said.
“I hope that if they are doing something, I hope that somebody’s going to be able to find out that they can end it because that would not be appropriate at all,” Trump added.
Sept. 26, 2016: In the first presidential debate, Trump said, “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC.”
“I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?” Trump added.
Oct. 9, 2016: “I don’t know Putin,” Trump said during the second presidential debate.
Oct. 19, 2016: In the third presidential debate, Trump said it was unclear whether Russia was behind election interference. “[Hillary Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.”
Nov. 28, 2016: In an interview with TIME, which named Trump its person of the year, Trump said, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.'”
He continued: “Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart. It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”
Dec. 9, 2016: A secret CIA assessment determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections with the goal of helping Trump win, according to the Washington Post. The president’s transition team pushed back, telling the newspaper: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Dec. 15, 2016: Putin sent Trump a letter, asking him to restore the relationship between their two countries.
“Serious global and regional challenges, which our countries have to face in recent years, show that the relations between Russia and the U.S. remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security of the modern world,” Putin wrote, as reported by Politico. “I hope that after you assume the position of President of the United States of America we will be able – by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner – to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”
Jan 4, 2017: “Why was DNC so careless?” Trump asked on Twitter, in response to Julian Assange’s assessment that a 14-year-old could have hacked the organization’s computer system.
Jan. 11, 2017: Trump said for the first time that he believes Russia was behind the hack of the DNC. “I think it was Russia,” he said at a news conference.
“He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he will be doing it more,” he added when asked what he would say to Putin about the hacking.
Jan. 28, 2017: Putin called Trump to congratulate him on his inauguration. “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair,” the White House said.
May 8, 2017: On Twitter, Trump called reports of collusion between his campaign and Russia a “total hoax.”
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
June 1, 2017: Putin denied any Russian state involvement in the 2016 elections, but said “patriotic” actors could have carried out hacking on their own.
“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” he said. “If they woke up today, read that there is something happening in interstate relation,” he added, they could “start contributing, as they see it, in the fight against those who do not speak well about Russia.”
June 20, 2017: Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he’s not sure whether Trump believes Russians interfered in the 2016 elections.
June 23, 2017: In a tweet, Trump acknowledged Russian hacking and asked why the Obama administration didn’t do more to stop it.
Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017
Sept. 22, 2017: The Kremlin said Russia did not use Facebook advertisements to try to sway the 2016 election.
Nov. 11, 2017: Trump told reporters traveling from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation that he asked Putin privately whether Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections. Putin denied it, Trump said.
“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did,” Trump told reporters.
Nov. 12, 2017: Trump said “I believe very much in our intelligence agencies” when they say Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But Trump also said he believed Putin is sincere in denying his involvement.
March 20, 2018: In a phone call with Putin, Trump congratulated him on winning another term. Some outlets reported that Trump was warned by advisers not to congratulate Putin. It’s not clear whether election meddling was discussed.
July 12, 2018: At a news conference at NATO, Trump pledged to ask Putin about election interference at their summit Monday. “Look, he may. What am I going to do? He may deny it,” Trump said.“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”
Trump added that the two leaders were competitors, not enemies. “Hopefully someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen but I don’t know him very well.”
July 16, 2018: When asked at a news conference whether he believed Putin or U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump said “I don’t see any reason why” Russia would interfere in the 2016 election.
“I didn’t know [Putin]; there was nobody to collude with,” Trump added.
“The probe is a disaster for our country,” Trump said of Mueller’s investigation. “There was no collusion at all.”
Putin said the Russian state “has never interfered and will never interfere” into American affairs, including the election process. “We should be guided by facts not rumors,” Putin said, challenging reporters to name one thing that proves collusion between him and Trump’s campaign.
Later in the conference, Putin said he hoped Trump would win the election “because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
After the conference, Trump tweeted that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people.”
As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
July 17, 2018:Trump told lawmakers in a meeting at the White House that he misspoke when he said he saw no reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 elections. Reading from typed notes, Trump said he meant to say he didn’t see why Russia “wouldn’t” be responsible.
“We’re going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process,” he said, reiterating that he thinks there is no proof of collusion between Russia and his campaign.
July 18, 2018: “There has never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been,” Trump told reporters before a cabinet meeting, adding that Putin knows that and isn’t happy about it.
When asked by a reporter whether Russia was still targeting the U.S, Trump said “no.”
Hours later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was answering “no” to more questions, and that the president believes a “threat still exists.”
July 19, 2018: Trump asks National Security Advisor John Bolton to invite Putin to visit Washington this fall, according to a tweet from Sanders.
In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) July 19, 2018
Trump hinted at those plans earlier in the day in his own tweet, writing: “I look forward to our second meeting.”
July 24, 2018: On Twitter, Trump says that hes “very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election,” adding without evidence that “they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!”
Lisa Desjardins reported for this story. See the giant timeline of everything Trump, Russia and the investigations here.