Mr. Trump also has invited Mr. Putin to join a Group of 7 summit in Washington in September, dropping past American insistence that Russia must first reverse its annexation of Crimea and its continuing, low-level war in eastern Ukraine.
The president appears to be giving no ground on the bounty story; on Saturday morning, he tweeted anew that the story was a “phony hit job by the @nytimes. They had no source, they made it up. FAKE NEWS!”
So far the White House has declined to declassify the section of a Presidential Daily Brief from February that described the evidence, or to make public a recently-commissioned national intelligence estimate about the evidence.
Mr. Trump has never before taken credit for ordering a cyberattack, even one meant more as a public signal than a long-lasting, destructive strike. Just a few days ago, the United States was warning that Russians were engaged in ransomware attacks, suggesting that the 2018 attack may have been briefly effective, but did not establish a long-term deterrent.
The president was not asked about other, more significant actions that American cyberforces have taken in Russia, including planting malware in its power grid to remind the Russians that if they turned off the lights in American cities, America was ready to retaliate in kind. (When The New York Times revealed that operation, Mr. Trump called it a “virtual act of treason,” but went on to allege that the story was not true.)
Many of Mr. Trump’s aides, most recently his former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, have said they could not discuss Russia’s election-related actions with the president because he believed the very conversation called into question the legitimacy of his election. But in the new interview, he seemed to acknowledge that the Russians acted — and blamed President Barack Obama for underreacting.
He said that Mr. Obama “knew before the election that Russia was playing around. Or, he was told. Whether or not it was so or not, who knows? And he said nothing. And the reason he said nothing was that he didn’t want to touch it because he thought” Hillary Clinton would win “because he read phony polls.”