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Why is Trump so insistent that Russia didn’t interfere in the election?

During his annual news conference in Moscow, Russian President denied interfering in last year's U.S. election, in words strikingly similar to those of President Trump. Judy Woodruff talks with Greg Miller of The Washington Post about Trump's routine denials of American intelligence conclusions about Russian meddling.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference today in Moscow. Always lengthy, today's lasted nearly four hours. And among other things, he was asked about relations with the United States and about President Trump. Putin made a point of lavishly praising his American counterpart's accomplishments. And then, in words strikingly similar to Mr. Trump's, he again denied interfering in last year's U.S. election and he scoffed at charges that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians.

    President Vladimir Putin (through interpreter): This has all been invented by the people who oppose Trump to delegitimize his work. This is strange for me, to be absolutely honest with you. This is being done without understanding that by doing this — I mean, the people who do this, they are dealing a blow to the domestic politics in the country. It means that they don't respect the voters who voted for him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Late today, the Kremlin said that Putin and President Trump spoke, discussing bilateral relations and North Korea.

    Just before that was disclosed, I spoke with Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who co-authored a detailed report today on Mr. Trump, and his routine denials of what U.S. intelligence agencies say was vast Russian interference in the 2016 election. I asked him just how clear the evidence is.

  • Greg Miller:

    Well, I think that Vladimir Putin and President Trump are among the few that I've encountered who really doubt it, frankly. I mean, in our interviews for this story, we spoke with more than 50 current and former officials, many of them very close to Trump, and we found only one other senior White House official who sort of sided with the president on this issue. Most of his members of his cabinet believe the intelligence, even though the CIA director sometimes complicates that or muddies that in some of his public statements. I don't think there's much doubt about the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we've seen some of President Trump's refusal to accept this public, but you found there were many more instances of it behind the scenes.

  • Greg Miller:

    Yes, that's right. I mean, and we're all very aware, as you point out, of Trump's hostility to this idea, his rejection of this case publicly, but even behind the scenes, right, we did interviews with aides who even in the weeks leading up to his inauguration, were pleading with him, staged what amounted to impromptu interventions with him in his office at Trump Tower, trying to persuade him, just accept this, boss, just so we can get past it. If you can't say this publicly and get it behind us, this is going to continue to follow us and impede your ability to do what you want to do as president.

    And even then, he just gets agitated and denies it, and strikes out, lashes out at the intelligence and insists that it's not real.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the one time, I guess, he came the closest to saying he thought it had happened at that news conference at the White House, you write that almost immediately thereafter, he said it was a mistake.

  • Greg Miller:

    Yes, this was — this was a press conference at Trump Tower in the lobby, January 11th, about two weeks before his inauguration. And he's — you know, his aides are prodding him, leading up to that moment: just say it. Just get it out there.

    He does. He says- it might– I think it could be Russia. Then he sort of backs away from that. But afterwards, he goes after his aides and says, that was wrong. I shouldn't have done that. That was a mistake. That's not me. I don't believe that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why do the people around him think he is so insistent on not acknowledging that this happened?

  • Greg Miller:

    Well, actually, I think some of his closest advisers are a bit sympathetic on this issue. They think that this is somebody who just does not — I mean, the reporting on this, the constant reminders to Trump that Russia interfered, Russia interfered, are like taunts in his ears, right? They are reminders that, you didn't win this election legitimately, and that is what he rejects.

    But I think there are some other factors at work here, too. Other officials told us that he really believes that if he could only have this relationship with Putin that he wants, if that were only allowed to happen, they could solve a lot of problems. So, it's a — it's a combination of things, but, really, it boils down to his personal insecurities about the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So to some extent, this explains why he seems more conciliatory toward Russia, toward Putin, than he does even towards U.S. allies.

  • Greg Miller:

    Right. I mean, in our story we write about the striking contrast in the way he handles, encounters in meetings with counterparts like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel versus Putin. Every time we see him with Putin, they're very chummy, they're joking. They're shaking hands, patting one another on the back. They've had private conversations without any other U.S. officials present.

    And, you know, when he's meeting with Merkel, or even others from Europe, you really can see this sort of hostility come across in his demeanor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bottom line, Greg Miller, why does it matter that the president acknowledges this? Is it enough just to have intelligence officials and others say, OK, it happened? Why does it matter?

  • Greg Miller:

    I mean, that was the fundamental question we set out to answer with this story and the answer is, it really does matter. When the president rejects the rationale, when he rejects this conclusion from his own intelligence agencies, it reverberates across the government. It affects the State Department. It affects the CIA. It affects the Pentagon. It affects other agencies.

    It is — it impairs their ability to pursue policies. They can't even bring these policies to him. The president has yet to have a single National Security Council meeting on the Russian interference in the election last year. How can you have a coherent strategy to deal with it if you don't have leadership from the top?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some excellent reporting. Greg Miller with the Washington Post– we thank you.

  • Greg Miller:

    Thank you so much.

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