Putin Says He Doesn’t Mind if Private Talk With Trump Is Made Public

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Wednesday that he would not mind if the White House made public his talks with President Trump at a summit meeting last year, because there was nothing incriminating in their conversations.

Just five days earlier, Mr. Putin’s spokesman had said the Kremlin would not want records of the two presidents’ talks released. But Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. spy, said his previous job had taught him that any conversation he had could be published.

“Therefore, when they tried to spin another scandal over our meeting with President Trump in Helsinki, we told the administration directly: If someone wants to find out something, publish; we are not against it,” the Russian president said at an energy conference in Moscow. “I can assure you there was nothing there that could compromise President Trump.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Friday that Moscow would not want to see Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Putin’s conversations made public, amid the uproar caused by the White House’s release of an account of a call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

Their motives in addressing the matter were unclear, but if nothing else, the conflicting comments by Mr. Peskov and Mr. Putin keep Russia in the conversation about Mr. Trump’s conduct. They could even goad the Democrats who are conducting an impeachment inquiry to dig further into Mr. Trump’s conversations with world leaders.

The true nature of Mr. Trump’s relationship with Mr. Putin has been shrouded in mystery and is a subject of intense interest given the evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Mr. Trump, who has adopted a friendlier stance toward Moscow than his predecessors. Multiple times after talking with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Trump has said he was inclined to believe Mr. Putin, who denies election meddling, over American intelligence agencies.

When asked on Wednesday about whether Russia intended to intervene into the 2020 election in the United States, Mr. Putin, in typical fashion, appeared to make a joke of the question.

“I will tell you a secret — yes, we will surely do this, just to make you joyful over there,” Mr. Putin said, provoking a round of applause from the crowd, consisting of Russia’s top officials and the heads of a number of Russian and foreign energy companies. “Just don’t tell anyone,” he added.

The 2018 Russia-United States meeting in Helsinki was the first and so far the only full-scale official bilateral meeting between the two leaders, though they have also had several less-formal encounters. What exactly transpired between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump during their two-hour private conversation there has been a subject of intense interest ever since.

The two presidents were accompanied only by their interpreters, and some congressional Democrats have called for Mr. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, to testify about what she had heard.

As for Mr. Trump’s conversation with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Putin defended the phone call, saying that he saw “nothing compromising” in the reconstructed transcript.

In the call, Mr. Putin pressed Mr. Zelensky to have his government investigate the conduct of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in connection with Ukraine, though no evidence of misconduct by Mr. Biden has surfaced. He also asked the Ukrainian president to cooperate with an investigation into a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had intervened in the 2016 election to benefit the Democrats.

“President Trump turned to his colleague asking to investigate possible corruption deals of former administration officials,” Mr. Putin said. “Any state leader had to do the same.”

He added that there was nothing in the phone conversation that would suggest that Mr. Trump demanded Mr. Zelensky “provide him with the compromising materials at all cost,” and that Mr. Trump didn’t “threaten to cut aid to Ukraine” during the call. Some of Mr. Trump’s critics argue that in fact, he did imply a link between Ukraine’s cooperation and American support.

In Russia, where there is little public oversight over government officials, let alone the head of state, it has been hard for many people to see the political turmoil in the United States as anything more than a trivial matter. Mr. Putin, for instance, said that the Democrats were just trying to use any pretext, however minor, to attack Mr. Trump.

“It became clear that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump team; it was even confirmed by Mr. Mueller during his investigation,” Mr. Putin said of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. “They now found another pretext, now connected with Ukraine.”


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