US President Donald Trump held a long phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The two discussed the current crisis in Venezuela and touched on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's recently released report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The call, which aides said lasted more than an hour, also included topics like a possible three-party arms control pact with China and North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The Kremlin said that Putin had stressed the need to respect Venezuelans' right to determine their own future and that outside interference in internal affairs or attempts at forceful regime change would undermine a political settlement of the crisis.
Putin's comment comes just days after a military uprising in support of self-declared president Juan Guaido failed to drive President Nicolas Maduro from power.
For his part, Trump was conciliatory with the Russian president over Venezuela. "It was a very positive conversation," Trump said.
"He is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he'd like to see something positive happen for Venezuela."
"And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid. Right now people are starving," he added.
But Trump's assurances of a hands-off Russian approach directly contradicted the tone and discourse of his own administration's officials.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused Russia of being part of the problem in Caracas and had claimed that Maduro was ready to flee Venezuela until Russia persuaded him to stay.
Shortly before Trump and Putin's call, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan held a crisis meeting in the Pentagon that hinted at military options. Shanahan said Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of US Southern Command, participated in the meeting along with other senior officials Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser.
No talk of election meddling
Another controversial topic was that of Robert Mueller's report, which Trump dismissed as the "Russian Hoax."
"We discussed it," Trump said of the report. "He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse," Trump said of Putin.
"But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever. So pretty much that's what it was."
Trump also said that he did not warn Putin not to meddle in the next election, which drew outrage across Washington.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer criticized the president's comments in a tweet, saying that Trump's priorities were "appalling and undermine democracy."
"Instead of pressing Putin on the #MuellerReport's extensive evidence that Russia hacked our elections, they gossiped about Fox News conspiracy theories?" Schumer wrote, in reference to US broadcaster Fox News, which the president frequently cites and where he is often featured.
Read more: Opinion: We don't need the Mueller report
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump had already warned Putin about election interference. "He doesn't need to do that every two seconds," Sanders said.
Mueller's report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was "sweeping and systematic," but investigators did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.
jcg/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)