Trump Says Not to Expect ‘Perry Mason’ Moment With Putin

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said not to expect a “Perry Mason” moment when he again confronts Vladimir Putin on Monday over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, but promised to tackle the issue head-on.

“I will absolutely, firmly ask the question” about interference in the U.S. election, Trump said at a news conference on Friday with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers, her country estate. But he predicted Putin wouldn’t confess.

“I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me,”’ Trump said. Referring to a TV courtroom drama aired in the 1950s and 1960s that often featured a dramatic, last-minute confession, he added, “There won’t be a Perry Mason here, I don’t think, but you never know what happens, right?"

In setting the table for a meeting with Putin in Helsinki that has many European and U.S. leaders on edge, Trump also shifted his frustrations back to the ongoing U.S. investigation of Russia that includes individuals with ties to Trump’s campaign and administration. He dismissed it as "pure stupidity" and blamed it in part for the tensions between the countries.

The U.S. president also bristled at a question about whether he was playing into Putin’s hands strategically by challenging NATO countries publicly this week over an array of issues including their levels of defense spending. He accused a journalist of "such dishonest reporting" for asking him the question.

"We have left NATO with more money, with more unity, with more spirit than NATO probably has ever had," Trump said. "Do you think Putin’s happy about that?" he said of increased defense commitments from NATO countries that date from 2014 but are taking place now on his watch. "I don’t think so."

Trump also talked about increased U.S. oil exports and his commitment to build up the U.S. military as evidence of a stronger posture against Russia, and recalled the U.S. expulsion of dozens of Russia diplomats to stand with the UK after poison attacks on UK soil blamed on Russians. "I guarantee you, whoever it is in Russia, they’re saying ’Oh gee, do we wish that Trump was not the victor in that election."

Having said that, Trump said, "If we could develop a relationship which is good for Russia, good for us, good for everybody, that would be great."

Trump said he also will discuss the civil war in Syria, Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and nuclear proliferation when he meets with Putin in Helsinki.

“We’ve been modernizing and fixing and buying” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Trump said. “It’s just a devastating technology. And they likewise are doing a lot. It’s a very, very bad policy. We have no choice. We are massively big and they are very big.”

Ahead of the Finland meeting, Trump upended a NATO summit in Brussels this week by demanding that America’s closest allies more rapidly increase their defense spending. He insinuated that the U.S. might withdraw from the alliance otherwise.

His treatment of U.S. allies has drawn broad criticism from many lawmakers in both parties. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, called Trump’s NATO remarks “misstatements and bluster” and “the words of one man.”

He said that in Helsinki, Trump should “reverse his disturbing tendency to show America’s adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies.”

Trump, in Friday’s news conference, called Russia’s annexation of Crimea "another bad hand" that he inherited upon taking office, and blamed predecessor Barack Obama for failing to stop Russia from making the grab. Trump asserted that Putin would not have felt emboldened to make such a move if Trump had been in office.

"There’s some good feeling" between Trump and Putin, the U.S. president said, while underscoring that the U.S. has not yet lifted sanctions on Russia. About the Crimea annexation, Trump said, "We will look at that," without elaborating. At a press conference Thursday following the NATO meeting, Trump left open the possibility of U.S. recognition of Moscow’s Crimea annexation.

May said her advice to Trump on dealing with Putin is to go into the meeting from "a position of strength" and "also from a position of unity in NATO."

Trump also reiterated earlier criticism of Germany for a pipeline deal with Russia, calling it "a horrible thing. He added Germany has "given up all of your strength" and given Russia too much power over its energy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.