Smiling Trump tells Putin: 'Don't meddle in the election, please'

OSAKA, Japan — Under pressure to stand firm against Russian election meddling, President Donald Trump touted his "very, very good relationship" with President Vladimir Putin on Friday before telling Putin with a smile: "Don't meddle in the election, please."

Trump's meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Japan was their first since an infamous summit last year in Helsinki, which left lawmakers of both parties aghast at the president's coziness with Putin and willingness to side with him against the U.S. intelligence community.

As the 2020 election approaches, Trump has been under increasing pressure publicly put Putin on notice that the U.S. won't tolerate election interference again.

As they sat together in Osaka, Trump didn't broach the topic, instead relishing in the attention of reporters and camera crews eagerly capturing every moment between the leaders of the two former Cold War foes.

"It's like the Academy Awards," Trump said to the Russian president. Then he called it a "great honor" to be with Putin, praising their "very, very good relationship" and predicting "a lot of very positive things" would result.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, center, walks off with fellow leaders after a family photo session at G-20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool Photo via AP)
El primer ministro de Canadá, Justin Trudeau, el presidente de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, y otros líderes mundiales posan para la foto de grupo de la cumbre del G20 en Osaka, Japón, el 28 de junio de 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron watches as President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bbefore a working session at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
French President Emmanuel Macron, President Donald Trump as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speak before a working session at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, right, listens to a reporter's question during a bilateral meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, second from left, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, third from left, listen. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as they gather for a group photo at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, right, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, right, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to President Donald Trump as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, looks at papers before a working session at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to greet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Partners of the G20 leaders including Philip May, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May's spouse, and French President Emmanuel Macron's wife Brigitte tour during G20 partners' program at Garden Oriental Osaka in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. G20 Osaka Summit Photo/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Partners of the G20 leaders tour during G20 partners' program at Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, June 28, 2019. G20 Osaka Summit Photo/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
Partners of the G20 leaders pose for a family photo at G20 partners' program in Tofuku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan, June 28, 2019. Du Xiaoyi/Pool via REUTERS
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, speaks to Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May prior to a working lunch at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, on Friday, June 28, 2019. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via REUTERS
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Over the din of reporters shouting and cameras clicking, Trump cocked his head when asked by NBC News whether he would tell Putin not to interfere in the vote next year.

"The answer to the question is, of course I will. 'Don't meddle in the election, please,'" Trump said. As Putin smiled broadly, Trump briefly raised his finger toward Putin before turning away and repeating: "Don't meddle in the election."

Trump's casual comments to Putin are unlikely to satisfy his critics, who have lambasted the president for repeatedly casting doubt on whether Russia interfered in 2016 despite the firm assessments of both the U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which Trump continues to dismiss as a "witch hunt."

In recent weeks, Trump has renewed concerns about his seriousness in confronting Russia's efforts to interfere in U.S. democracy by saying he would listen to damaging information offered from foreign governments about one of his political opponents. Amid the ensuing uproar, Trump shifted position and argued that he would also tell the FBI.

Putin, for his part, said the two leaders had much to discuss in Osaka, noting that they had not seen each other since the Helsinki summit. Still, he said through a translator that their teams had been working together in the interim and said their session in Osaka would be "a great opportunity to follow up on that."

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