OSAKA--President Donald Trump on Friday sardonically asked his Russian counterpart to please not meddle in U.S. elections, appearing to make light of a scandal that led to an investigation of his campaign's contact with the Kremlin during 2016 elections.
A two-year probe into a Moscow-run influence campaign that boosted Trump's candidacy has clouded his presidency since it began, frustrating the Republican president, who has said he seeks better relations with Russia.
Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to reporters in Osaka, Japan, ahead of their first formal face-to-face meeting since a controversial summit in Helsinki last July and the mid-April release of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election meddling. Asked by reporters if he would raise the issue during their meeting, held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit, Trump said: "Yes, of course I will," drawing a laugh from Putin.
Trump then turned to Putin to give the directive twice, as he wagged a finger at the Russian leader. "Don't meddle in the election, please," Trump said.
Trump's critics have accused him of being too friendly with Putin and castigated him for not publicly confronting the Russian leader in Helsinki after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russian operatives hacked into Democratic Party computers and used fake social media accounts to attack his 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
His attempt to make light of the situation with Putin in Osaka prompted a fierce response back in the United States. "Russia attacked our democracy in a plot to artificially place Trump into the Oval Office. That is not a laughing matter," House of Representatives Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries tweeted.
"What will Bob Mueller have to say about this?" Jeffries asked. Mueller is scheduled to testify publicly about the investigation before two congressional committees on July 17.