HELSINKI — President Trump said in an interview airing Sunday that he hadn’t thought of pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin on extraditing the dozen Russian officials charged with hacking Democratic emails, instead blaming the Democrats’ “bad defenses” for getting hacked during the 2016 campaign.
“Well, I might,” Trump said when asked during an interview with CBS News about extraditing the indicted intelligence agents. “I hadn’t thought of that. But I certainly, I’ll be asking about it. But again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.”
The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia. Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the FBI and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will “no doubt” work on submitting a formal request. But doing so, Huntsman cautioned, “doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russians are going to follow through.”
And John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, played down any possibility of Trump personally demanding Putin to hand over the indicted individuals during their private summit — particularly because of the lack of an extradition treaty.
“It’s pretty silly for the president to demand something that he can’t get legally,” Bolton said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “The Russians take the position — you can like it or not like it — that their constitution forbids them to extradite Russian citizens.”
Bolton also said he finds it “hard to believe” that Putin was not aware of an effort by Russian military intelligence officials to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In the CBS interview, Trump asserted that the GOP was not similarly hacked during the 2016 campaign because the Republican National Committee had better cybersecurity in place.
“We had much better defenses. I’ve been told that by a number of people. We had much better defenses, so they couldn’t,” Trump said during the CBS interview. “I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked.”
The indictments Friday of the 12 Russian intelligence officials, who stand accused of interfering in the 2016 campaign by hacking into servers at the Democratic National Committee and stealing emails, injects another explosive element into Trump’s highly anticipated summit with Putin here on Monday.
Rather than condemnation, Trump’s first public comments on the indictments merely noted that the hacking occurred during the Obama administration, rather than his presidency — a line he stressed again during the CBS interview. He has said multiple times during his European excursion that he will raise the issue of election interference with Putin but that he doesn’t expect the Russian leader to admit to the interference and so has little recourse.
Trump was personally briefed by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein shortly before leaving for his seven-day European trip, which caps off Monday here in this Nordic capital with the one-on-one Putin summit.
Scores of congressional Democrats have called on Trump to cancel his meeting with Putin in light of the indictments, detailed Friday by Rosenstein at a news conference. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), a prominent Republican critic of the president, also urged Trump to cancel his summit with the Russian leader if he was “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.”
But the White House has given no indication that canceling the summit was even considered, and Trump said in his CBS interview that he was approaching the meeting with “low expectations” and pledged that “nothing bad” would emerge from the discussion.
“I think it’s a good thing to meet. I do believe in meetings. I believe that having a meeting with Chairman Kim was a good thing,” Trump said, referring to his summit last month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I think having meetings with the president of China was a very good thing. I believe it’s really good. So having meetings with Russia, China, North Korea, I believe in it. Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out.”
The topics, in addition to election interference, that Trump has said he will raise with Putin include the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, as well as a Reagan-era arms-control agreement and the prospect of extending a 2011 nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.