Trump 'pressed' Putin on election meddling but he denied it, Rex Tillerson says

It is the first in-person meeting of the two leaders since Trump's election.

ByVeronica Stracqualursi and Dakshayani Shankar
July 7, 2017, 3:58 PM

— -- President Donald Trump was the first to raise the topic of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election at his face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit meeting on Friday -- which the Russian president denied, according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Tillerson also added that interference in the election was the first subject Trump raised on both leaders’ agenda for the meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

"The president opened the meeting by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in 2016 election. Putin denied such involvement, as he has done in the past," Tillerson said during an off-camera briefing today.

"The two leaders agreed this is of substantial hindrance. They agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the U.S. and our democratic process as well as other countries.”

Tillerson also added that both presidents acknowledged the “challenges of cyberthreats and interference in the democratic processes" in the United States and other countries and that they would work together to "create a framework" for dealing with such threats, including terrorism, efforts to hack into the “internal affairs of countries” and any actions against "infrastructure.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed during a televised news conference that Trump raised the issue of election interference, though adding that the president accepted Putin’s “clear statements” that “Russian leadership hadn’t interfered.”

Lavrov pointed out that Trump noted the Russian interference had been “mentioned in several U.S. circles” but “the [U.S] can’t prove it.”

“President Trump, I’m sure either he himself or Rex Tillerson, will talk about this, said that this campaign [accusing Russia of interfering] is already acquiring quite a strange character because for months when accusations have been voiced not a single fact has come out,” Lavrov said.

But another senior White House official, when asked by ABC News whether Lavrov's description of Trump’s accepting the Putin denial of election interference is true, said, “No,” without providing further information.

House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the meeting’s outcome during a Boy Scouts award ceremony, saying that he wasn’t surprised at Putin’s clear denial.

“I would expect Vladimir Putin to deny what clearly he has done over the years, not just with the U.S. election but with other elections throughout Europe,” said Ryan.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and other members of Congress critiqued the president in a series of tweets on Friday for “giving equal credence to the U.S. Intel Committee’s findings and Putin’s assertions.”

“Working to compromise the integrity of our elections cannot [and] should not be an area where ‘agree to disagree’ is an acceptable conclusion,” Schumer tweeted.

Working to compromise the integrity of our elections cannot & should not be an area where ‘agree to disagree’ is an acceptable conclusion.

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 7, 2017

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee responded to Tillerson and Lavrov’s claims of a forthcoming joint U.S.- Russia cybersecurity group with a North Korea comparison.

“Forming a working group on cyber interference in elections with Russia is akin to inviting North Korea to lead one on nonproliferation,” he said.

Former attorney general Sally Yates broke her silence on Twitter, warning Trump that his refusal to confirm interference “insults career intel pros” and “hinders [their] ability to prevent this in the future.”

Putin and Trump's meeting lasted about two hours and 15 minutes -- far longer than the planned 30-minute duration -- and Tillerson said the meeting was "very constructive" with both leaders possessing a "positive chemistry" and not "re-litigating [U.S.-Russia] past" with one another.

First Lady Melania Trump came into the meeting after the first hour mark, but "couldn't get through" to both leaders, Tillerson said.

Both presidents exchanged views on the nature of U.S.-Russia relations and the future.

"It's an honor to be with you," Trump had said to Putin at the beginning of their meeting, which began shortly after 10 a.m. ET.

"President Putin and I have been discussing various things. I think it’s going very well, we’ve had some very, very good talks," Trump told reporters who were allowed into the room briefly.

Trump added, “We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States, and for everybody concerned."

Trump and Putin were joined at their more formal meeting by Tillerson, Lavrov and two translators.

Putin said beforehand that he was "delighted" to meet with Trump personally and hoped their meeting would “yield positive results," according to the translator. The Russian president said while he and Trump have spoken over the phone -- three times since Trump took office – such calls are "never enough."

Before their high-stakes sit-down, the two leaders had a casual run-in this morning where they exchanged a handshake.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps, Patrick Reevell and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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