President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have held two friendly phone conversations with each other in the past four days, showering each other with gratitude as they discussed terror threats, the American stock market, and North Korea, according to the White House and the Kremlin. The two even discussed the perks of intelligence sharing, despite the ongoing U.S. investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The two leaders held their latest call Sunday morning. Putin called Trump to thank him for sharing a CIA tip that allegedly helped stop a massive suicide bomb plot in St. Petersburg, officials said.
The Russian government revealed the meeting before the White House confirmed it. According to the Kremlin, Trump’s tip helped Russian authorities arrest seven people suspected of planning to blow up the Kazan Cathedral. No information about the suspects was released.
A White House readout of the call, released in the afternoon, described it as an amiable chat in which Trump told Putin that the U.S. intelligence community “were pleased to have helped save so many lives.”
The readout said Trump and Putin talked about “the importance of intelligence sharing,” adding, “Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.” It said Putin sent his thanks to the CIA, and that Trump called CIA Director Mike Pompeo to congratulate him and the intelligence community “on a job well done!”
The praise is deeply ironic, since the U.S. intelligence community has also found that the Kremlin oversaw a cyber attack campaign to influence the 2016 election — and Trump has refused to support its findings. Trump has consistently cast doubt on all findings about Russian hacking and has recently even started suggesting that American law enforcement officials might be tainted by partisan bias and cannot be trusted. When Kremlin officials visited Trump at the White House in May, the president revealed to them highly classified information about threats from the Islamic State militant group.
The call came only three days after Trump initiated a talk with Putin to thank him for commending the booms in the U.S. stock market since Trump took office. Stock market closings have been shattering all-time records for much of Trump’s presidency, and in his annual press conference for Russian citizens on Thursday, Putin said this was a sign that investors “trust in what President Trump has been doing in this field.” Trump, who often points to stock market records as one of his proudest achievements in office, “thanked President Putin for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance,” according to a White House readout of the call.
In the same call, Trump and Putin talked about working together to resolve the nuclear threats from North Korea, officials said. It is unclear if they came to any particular agreement.
Trump and Putin’s chummy relationship has invited scrutiny and speculation over the past two years as the two leaders say nothing but nice words about each other, even as their governments remain opposed as they have for decades. Trump, who often speaks highly of authoritarian leaders, has never denounced Putin’s brutal crackdowns on the free press, fair elections, and political opposition in Russia.
The two have had few interactions since Trump took office, but the little time they’ve spent together set off even more alarms. After Trump met Putin at the G20 Summit in July, Trump said he accepted the Russian strongman’s denials of election hacking, despite the findings of Trump’s own intelligence agencies. Trump even floated the idea of collaborating with Putin on a cybersecurity initiative, even as Russian interference remains under investigation in the U.S. After the idea raised hackles in the U.S., Trump suggested on Twitter that he never seriously considered it.
Trump and Putin held several informal talks last month at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam. Trump told reporters he had hoped to enlist Putin’s aid in pressuring North Korea to halt its threats.
Trump’s campaign is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for suspected collusion with the Kremlin during the 2016 race. The probe recently led to a guilty plea from Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser and campaign adviser for Trump, for lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia during Trump’s presidential transition. There was no indication that Trump and Putin discussed the investigation or election hacking in their recent calls.
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