(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said he’s ready to seek areas of cooperation with U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, calling the furor over election-meddling allegations part of a deep political crisis in Washington.
In his first public comments on the outcome of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Putin welcomed the finding that no one involved in Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia in the 2016 election.
“We said from the very start that this notorious commission of Mr. Mueller wouldn’t find anything because we know this better than anyone,” Putin said Tuesday at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg. “It’s utter nonsense aimed solely at a domestic audience and used for internal political struggle in the U.S.”’
Trump scored the biggest political victory of his presidency last month when Attorney General William Barr published a summary of Mueller’s assessment that there was no collusion during the campaign. The president, who’d condemned the 22-month inquiry as a “witch hunt” said he’d been completely exonerated.
Witch hunts are “a black page” in U.S. history and “I would not like it ever to happen again,” Putin said. The outcome of the Mueller investigation showed that “a mountain gave birth to a mouse,” he said.
In the letter to Congress, Barr said that Mueller didn’t establish that Trump or people around him conspired with Russia’s campaign interference “despite multiple efforts by Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” But the special counsel also found there was evidence “on both sides of the question” of whether Trump obstructed justice and that his probe didn’t “exonerate” the president on that score.
While Putin said when the two leaders met in Helsinki last year that he’d wanted Trump to win the 2016 election because of his pledge to improve relations, he sidestepped a question on whether he supports the U.S. president’s re-election in 2020.
“We respect the wishes of the American people,” he said. “Whoever is president, we’re ready to work with them.’’
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind hacking aimed at damaging Democratic Party contender Hillary Clinton and boosting Trump’s chances of winning the election. Russia rejects the allegations. Trump pledged during his campaign to improve ties with Russia and has repeatedly said he wants good relations with Putin.
The Russian leader said he has “plenty of disagreements” with Trump, whose administration has imposed a series of new sanctions on his country, but is ready to work with the U.S. on issues of joint interest including terrorism and arms control.
“We hope that when this situation normalizes, opportunities will emerge for bilateral cooperation on all issues,” Putin said.
(Adds more on Meuller’s findings in sixth paragraph.)
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