Trump initiated Putin call in the wake of economic praise

Says primary purpose of call was N. Korea

By DAN MERICA AND KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN
Jorge Silva/Pool/AFP/Getty Images via CNN

Putin and Trump

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Donald Trump said Friday that he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to thank him for comments he made about the President's efforts to grow the American economy.

Trump, speaking with reporters at the White House before he left to address a graduation ceremony at the National FBI Academy, said the call was "great." He also once again denied any collusion between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian operatives.

The ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's role in Russia's 2016 election meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller has loomed over the Trump administration for months, angering the President who sees the probe as nothing more than an attempt to undermine his credibility.

"He said very nice things about what I have done for this country in terms of the economy, but he said also some negative things in terms of what is going on elsewhere," Trump said. "The primary point was to talk about North Korea."

He added: "We would love to have his help on North Korea. China is helping. Russia is not helping. We would like to have Russia's help, very important."

The Kremlin said Thursday the two men discussed US-Russia ties and increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula, an issue that Putin chastised the United States for in earlier comments.

Trump's relationship with Russia has been complicated ever since the businessman-turned-politician stepped into the Oval Office in January, given the ongoing investigation into his campaign's ties to Moscow. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia, at Putin's direction, meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia and called the investigation a "hoax."

"Let's put it this way, there is absolutely no collusion, that has been proven," Trump said in his conversation with reporters on the South Lawn. "That was a Democrat hoax, it was an excuse for losing the election and it should have never been this way where they spend all these millions of dollars."

Putin has denied those accusation, too, and Trump said last month that he believes the Russian President is sincere in those denials.

The two men last spoke in mid-November after a brief handshake and conversation during an international summit in Vietnam.

Trump has shown in his first year as president that he thrives of public praise. And world leaders have played into that.

During remarks at a marathon news conference Thursday, Putin said Trump had made some "fairly serious achievements" since he took office.

He borrowed Trump's own lines trumpeting the strength of the American economy, suggesting "investor confidence in the American economy, which means that they trust what President Trump is doing in this area."

Putin wasn't all positive those. He criticized the US approach to North Korea, calling it "counterproductive."

But Trump's comments on the South Lawn reflect a growing sense in right-wing media and among conservative lawmakers that Mueller's investigation is a bias attempt to attack Trump. Those calls grew louder earlier this week then anti-Trump text messages between top FBI employees were released to lawmakers and reporters earlier this week.

Trump, who has slammed the FBI in the past for their role in the Mueller probe, did so again on Friday.

"It's a shame what happened with the FBI," Trump said. "It is very sad when you look at those documents and how they've done that is very, very disgraceful and you have a lot of angry people that are seeing it."

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