Nikki Haley: ‘We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia’

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is offering a remarkably different account of President Trump’s meeting at the G-20 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin than other U.S. and Russian officials, claiming Trump told Putin that the United States believes that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election and that the Kremlin needs to quit interfering in the U.S. democratic process.

“What he did was bring up right away the election meddling, and he did that for a reason,” Haley said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “One, he wanted to basically look him in the eye, let him know that, yes, we know you meddled in our elections. Yes, we know you did it, cut it out. And I think President Putin did exactly what we thought he would do, which is deny it. This is Russia trying to save face. And they can’t. They can’t. Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections.”

Haley’s description runs counter to the versions offered by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Trump himself.

While Trump said Sunday that he “strongly pressed” Putin about Moscow’s meddling, the president has also expressed doubt about who was behind it.

In Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, Trump said Russia “could” have interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — which was the conclusion of the four U.S. intelligence agencies that investigated it — but that “nobody really knows for sure.”

Haley was asked why Trump won’t say publicly that Russia meddled in the U.S. election.

“I think that you can ask him,” Haley said. “Everybody’s trying to nitpick what he says and what he doesn’t, but talk is one thing. Actions are another. He confronted President Putin. He made it the first thing that he talked about. And I think we have to now see where it goes from here.”

Trump extends his hand to Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Trump extends his hand to Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On Friday, Tillerson told reporters that the president “pressed” the Russian leader only to be rebuffed and that Trump is ready to “move forward” from the seemingly “intractable” dispute.

“What the two presidents, I think rightly, focused on is, how do we move forward? How do we move forward from here?” Tillerson said. “I think the relationship — and the president made this clear as well — is too important. And it’s too important to not find a way to move forward.”

At a separate briefing, Lavrov said that Trump described the multiple investigations into Moscow’s alleged interference as “strange and bizarre” because thus far “not a single fact has been presented” to prove the charge. Lavrov also said that Trump accepted Putin’s denial that Russia was involved.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that he and Putin “discussed forming an impenetrable” cybersecurity unit to prevent future election-related hacking.

Haley applauded the president’s outreach to Russia despite her view that Moscow can’t be trusted.

“From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia,” Haley said. “We need to tell them what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can cut this out and get them to stop.”

The former South Carolina governor added: “It doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia, and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.”

On NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sharply criticized Trump’s decision to work with Russia on cybersecurity.

“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” Graham said. “But it’s pretty close.”

The South Carolina Republican also said that “doing a good job” of managing the conflicts in Afghanistan and North Korea and the fight against ISIS, but “when it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot.”

“To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin,” Graham said. “And that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

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