WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller's assessment that Russia is already interfering in the 2020 presidential election, dismissing the notion just as he did after the 2016 election.
"You don't really believe this. Do you believe this?" Trump told reporters at the White House as he prepared to leave for a political rally in Cincinnati.
His words were in response to a direct question about whether he raised Mueller's assessment during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said he did not discuss election interference with Putin during a phone call Wednesday.
Mueller, whose staff prepared a report detailing efforts by Russians to hack Democrats and manipulate social media platforms during the 2016 election, said last week they will try it again in 2020.
“They’re doing it as we sit here,” Mueller said during high-profile House hearing.
Democrats said Trump is trying to play down or ignore the Russian role in helping him win in 2016, and his latest comments about Mueller's warning on 2020 is yet another example. Trump repeatedly disputed the notion of Russian interference during and after the 2016 election, though at other times said he accepted the conclusion from U.S. intelligence agencies that Moscow did intervene.
"He's either trying to cover it up or in delusional denial that it's happening," tweeted Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson.
Trump has described the Mueller investigation into Russian election activity as a "hoax," and denied that members of his 2016 campaign worked with foreign interests.
The president said he called Putin this week to discuss help with fighting forest fires in Russia, not to discuss election security.
While meeting with Putin on June 28 at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump joked about the prospect of Russia interference in 2020.
"Don't meddle in the election, president," Trump said in a joking manner to Putin as cameras clicked and reporters shouted questions. Wagging a finger at the Russian president, Trump repeated, "don't meddle in the election."
When an interpreter translated Trump's "request," Putin laughed.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump questions whether Russia will interfere in 2020 election