U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, center, arrive for a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Trump Decided Russia Indictments Should Come Pre-Summit, Sources Say

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to announce new Russian election-hacking indictments before his meeting with Vladimir Putin rather than after -- in the hopes it would strengthen his hand in the talks, according to accounts from people familiar with the decision.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki? Trump chose before, ultimately putting the issue into the spotlight just 72 hours before the high-stakes meeting, the people said.

In the end, Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism for suggesting he was leaning toward accepting the Russian president’s denial that his government was behind hacking during the 2016 presidential election, even though Trump had hoped the indictment of 12 Russians on charges of meddling would give him the upper hand, one of the people said.

On Tuesday, Trump backed off his earlier statements and said he misspoke in Helsinki when he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that was behind the meddling.

The episode involved a rare move by Rosenstein, who invoked an exception on national security grounds that allowed him to brief Trump about ongoing grand jury proceedings -- even though Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate whether anyone close to Trump colluded with Russia and whether the president sought to obstruct the probe.

Rosenstein announced the indictments on Friday. He said then that he “briefed President Trump about these allegations earlier this week. The president is fully aware of the department’s actions.” He didn’t disclose that he’d given Trump a choice on the timing.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

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