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HELSINKI (AP) – President Donald Trump says the Russia investigation has been a “disaster” for the United States and has kept America and Russia “separated.”

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Speaking during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, he reiterates that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russian government.

Trump says he ran a “clean campaign” and he beat his Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton “easily.” The president says it’s a “shame” there is a cloud over his administration. He says he ran a “brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Putin is pushing back against claims that his government interfered in the U.S. election. He says there’s “no evidence when it comes to the actual facts.”

Trump says in a statement that he directly addressed meddling by Russia in the 2016 U.S. election with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the U.S. president is not condemning Moscow’s conduct publicly.

Trump says during a joint news conference that his message was “best delivered in person.” He says he “spent a great deal of time” talking about election meddling and Putin feels strongly about it and “has an interesting idea.”

The president did not elaborate on Putin’s idea. Putin said before Trump spoke that Moscow never interfered and will never interfere in the American electoral process.

The summit comes days after the U.S. indictment of 12 alleged Russian military intelligence agents for sophisticated hacking in the 2016 election.

Trump is calling his meeting with Putin “a good start, a very good start for everybody” as the two leaders and their top advisers sat across the table from one another during a luncheon. It followed more than two hours of one-on-one discussions involving just the U.S. and Russian leaders, with only translators present.

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Trump was joined at the luncheon by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and other top aides.

Even before Trump and Putin sat down Monday, Russia’s government signaled that the two leaders were on the same page.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted “we agree” in reaction to Trump’s morning tweet criticizing U.S. “foolishness and stupidity” for the state of relations between the two countries.

Trump’s tweet says: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Trump has promised to raise Russian election meddling with Putin, but he did not do so publicly when he discussed the agenda as they first met on Monday.

Monday’s meeting is being closely watched on both sides of the Atlantic, coming days after the U.S. Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for their role in hacking Democratic entities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump says he hopes for better relations with the Russian leader. He faces bipartisan skepticism in Washington that his desire for warming ties is displacing concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other destabilizing actions.

Meanwhile, Putin is using a newly designed Russian limousine abroad for the first time to get to the summit with President Trump.
Putin first used the Kortezh limousine during his inauguration in May but had never taken it abroad until now. Putin’s plane touched down in Helsinki 30 minutes later than planned, pushing back the start of his one-on-one talks with Trump.

The use of the Kortezh could be a show of Russian pride to counter the U.S. president’s world famous limousine known as “The Beast.”

Putin’s motorcade included several other vehicles of the same Kortezh, or Aurus family.

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