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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. President Donald Trump, left and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Monday, July 16, 2018. Trump and Putin arrived Monday at Helsinki's presidential palace for a long-awaited summit, hours after Trump blamed the United States, and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea, for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

HELSINKI — Standing next to Russia's Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' conclusions that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to Trump's benefit and seemed to accept Putin's insistence that Russia's hands were clean.

Putin said he did indeed want to Trump to win — because of his policies — but took no action to make it happen.

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," said Trump, repeatedly denouncing the special counsel investigation into Russian interference efforts, which intelligence officials warn are ongoing.

"I don't see any reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election,' Trump said.

Putin, for his part, said for the first time that he did want Trump to win the election, but insisted he had not interfered and never would in American elections.

It was an extraordinary press conference closing out the Trump-Putin summit, in which the American president delivered what amounted to a warm embrace to the man who for years has been isolated by the U.S. and Western allies for Russia's activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond.

Trump said he and Putin "spent a great deal of time" discussing allegations of Russian election meddling as they met for several hours Monday. But Trump declined the opportunity to denounce Putin for the interference efforts, which U.S. intelligence agencies insist did occur, including hacking of Democratic emails, the subject of last week's indictment of 12 Russians.

Trump said, as he has countless times, that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and the Russians. "We ran a brilliant campaign and that's why I'm president," he said.

Putin also suggested Monday that Moscow and Washington could jointly conduct criminal investigations into a dozen Russian intelligence officials accused of hacking during the 2016 U.S. election campaign — an idea Trump hailed as an "incredible offer."

Asked if Russia could extradite the 12 Russian military intelligence officers, Putin challenged the U.S. to take advantage of a 1999 agreement envisaging mutual legal assistance.

He said the agreement would allow U.S. officials to request that Russian authorities interrogate the 12, adding that U.S. officials could request to be present in such interrogations.

Putin noted that Russia would expect the U.S. to return the favor and cooperate in the Russian probe against William Browder, a British investor charged of financial crimes in Russia. Browder was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.

The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States — and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea — for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations.

"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse," Trump tweeted Monday morning, blaming "many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!"

The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump's tweet and then replying: "We agree."

Asked about the tweet and whether he held Russia responsible for anything, Trump said he held "both countries responsible" thinks the United States has been "fooling" and that "we're all to blame."

"The probe in a disaster for our country. There was no collusion at all."

Putin, speaking through an interpreter, once again denied what he described as "so-called interference of Russia." He called it "nonsense" and insisted the Russian state had never interfered and would never interfere in the American electoral process.

The pair had opened their long-awaited summit Monday with a wink and slouch, respectively, then talked one on one behind closed doors for two-plus hours before the American leader declared their meeting was off to a "very, very good start for everybody."

"We have not been getting along well for the last number of years," Trump said after arriving at the Presidential Palace in Finland's capital, where the leaders are meeting. "But I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship. ... I really think the world wants to see us get along."

Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact through phone calls and meetings at international events but "the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues." He added: "There are quite a few of them for us to pay attention to."

The summit, which is being closely watched around the world, was not the first time Trump and Putin have held talks. They met on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year. But Monday's session was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump's presidential campaign.

Addressing reporters before the one-on-one meeting, Putin struck a casual pose during Trump's remarks, slouching in his chair with his legs wide and eyes low. He nodded along to some of Trump's remarks before they were translated, showcasing his fluency in English. Trump leaned forward in his chair, his hands tented in front of him and frequently glanced over at the Russian president. At one point, he shot Putin a wink. After Trump concluded his remarks, American reporters shouted several questions about whether he would bring up election meddling during his discussions with Putin.

Trump did not respond; Putin appeared to smirk.

With that, the leaders gave a quick handshake and their private meeting in the opulent Gothic Hall was underway — the two of them, each with a translator.

Out on the streets, the summit attracted a grab-bag of protesters, with abortion-rights activists wearing artificially bulging bellies and Trump masks, anti-fascist protesters bearing signs with expletive-laden insults, and free traders, anti-war Ukrainians and gay rights supporters making their voices heard.

Check back for updates and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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  • mozarky2
    July 16, 2018 at 8:46 a.m.

    Feckless dims want to sabotage this summit. Apparently, they don't want us to have improved relations with Russia.
    Rigged elections! It is to laugh uproariously! Unlike Hillary, Putin wins elections heavily rigged in his favor!

  • hah406
    July 16, 2018 at 9:02 a.m.

    Why should we have improved relations? All indications are that the Cold War is back on. Russia has deployed spies in numbers not seen since then. They are trying to subvert democracy in every part of the world. And Trump is complicit in trying to help them. The GOP was supposed to be the strong anti-communist party. Why do you insist on supporting a fascist strongman named Putin who's primary interest is in taking down our country?

    July 16, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    Trump won an election heavily rigged in his favor too, but moz has no problem with that.

    Trump is a traitor, and his supporters are complicit.

  • PopMom
    July 16, 2018 at 10 a.m.

    Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska just denounced Trump's tweet calling the Russia investigation a "witch hunt" and wrote that Russia should be declared an enemy of the United States for their attempts to interfere with our elections. I hope that this is the beginning of a tidal wave against Trump and his conspiracies with an anti-democratic dictator.

    July 16, 2018 at 11:02 a.m.

    Wow...Trump was even more embarrassing in that presser than anticipated. What an utterly stupid coward he is.

    Putin's puppet.

  • Packman
    July 16, 2018 at 11:11 a.m.

    Hey hah, PopSnob, and Seed Tick Donnie - Hillary lost. Get over it. Time for you move on, to stop your incessant whining and get a life.
    But look, we get it. It was never supposed to be this way. Hillary was a shoe-in and the Trump candidacy a joke. Never in your wildest dreams did you see Donald Trump being duly elected POTUS. And now the butthurt just won't go away. Look, we get it.
    But your eternal butthurt is no excuse to be a bunch of whiny, petulant, little brats. Donald Trump is POTUS and you have nobody to blame but yourselves for being so arrogant and smug about Hillary winning. You helped elect Donald Trump. Be an adult and own it.

    July 16, 2018 at 11:17 a.m.

    Look who's telling us to be adults, PM.


  • hah406
    July 16, 2018 at 11:43 a.m.

    Packman, just shut up already. It isn't about Hillary. It is about your idol being an incompetent demagogue. Trump just essentially committed treason. He sided with Russia over the U.S. He declined to back our 16 intelligence agencies that say Russia interfered in the election. He instead blamed his own country. This isn't whining, this is the Cold War again. Of course, you aren't intelligent enough to understand any of this. Even GOP senators are blasting Trump, calling it the most disgraceful performance by a POTUS in history.

  • Illinoisroy
    July 16, 2018 at noon

    I'm curious on how Mr. Putin scored Mr. Trump on his first personnel performance review and if he will be getting a pay increase?

    July 16, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.

    "I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think that we've all been foolish." - Donald J. Treason