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How Trump and Putin closed ranks against their common critics

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their summit on Monday in Helsinki, Finland. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chris McGrath

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday carried out a joint exercise in denial. 

Trump was asked for what he held Russia accountable in purportedly damaged relations. He replied, "I hold both countries responsible." Rather than elaborate, though, he quickly pivoted to solely attack an American process, repeating his claim that "it's ridiculous what's going on" regarding the special counsel's Russia-meddling probe given there was "zero collusion."

The U.S. president called the probe "a disaster for our country," which one might well interpret to mean a disaster for himself.

When Putin's turn came to face a hard question -- whether he'd allow extradition of a dozen of his military intelligence officials under Justice Department indictment -- the Russian leader dodged and then attacked his own perceived political enemies in a narrative smoother than Trump's.

Putin said his officials could perform an interrogation and perhaps "actually permit official representatives of the United States, including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. [Robert] Mueller -- We can let them into the country and they will be present at this questioning."

In turn, Putin said that would require U.S. help in probing its own intelligence officials in Russia. He also railed against Bill Browder, the banker-turned-human-rights activist, and liberal political activist George Soros, a perpetual target of right-wing conspiracy theories in both the U.S. and Eastern Europe.

At least by default, Trump provided cover for Putin's denial of any effort to meddle in the 2016 election.This is despite all U.S. intelligence agencies and the Trump appointees who run them saying otherwise and suggesting such cyberefforts continue. Trump said he didn't see "why it would be" the Putin government that carried out election hacks.

Trump called Putin's meddling denial "very powerful," an interesting choice of words.

"I have confidence in both parties," Trump oddly claimed.

Then he launched into an opaque and slippery story now hot on some websites about a "missing" Democratic National Committee's computer server. Mueller cited a pile of technical data in his indictment Friday of the 12 Russians.

Putin gave Trump a bit of cover, too, in a sense. He admitted he indeed wanted Trump to win in 2016 based on the latter's more positive view of Russia even while insisting he didn't act to make it happen.

As for the unproved allegation in a private dossier that Putin had compromising information on Trump, Putin gave the session a moment of sly humor.

"I was an intelligence officer myself," said the ex-KGB man. "And I do know how dossiers are made up."

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