“We had a very good call,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, according to The New York Times. “We will probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”
A White House statement said the leaders discussed “the state of bilateral relations and resolved to continue dialogue about mutual national security priorities and challenges.”
“President Trump congratulated President Putin on his March 18 re-election, and emphasized the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said. “The two leaders confirmed the need for the United States and Russia to continue our shared efforts on strategic stability.”
The presidential call came just days after the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and for malicious cyberattacks. Last week, Trump also publicly backed U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in criticizing Russia for its apparent role in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.
Meanwhile, a nearly yearlong investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign team stretches on. The president has fiercely denied suggestions that Moscow played a role in his 2016 election, tweeting on Sunday, “There is NO COLLUSION!”
Then-FBI Director James Comey launched the agency’s investigation into alleged Russian interference last March. Trump fired him in early May. The Justice Department then appointed special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, to lead the explosive probe.
Trump has repeatedly attempted to discredit Mueller’s team and to suggest the probe should really be focused on his onetime election rival Hillary Clinton. He hurled one of his favorite attacks again on Saturday, calling the investigation a “WITCH HUNT!”
Putin has similarly denied any collusion, saying in December that such accusations showed a “lack of respect” for the voters who supported Trump.
In a statement on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted Trump. “An American president does not lead the Free World,” he said, “by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
The New York Times noted, however, that President Barack Obama also congratulated Putin after the Russian president’s election victory in 2012.
During Tuesday’s briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to a question about McCain’s critique by saying, “The president has maintained that it is important for us to have a dialogue with Russia. At the same time, we will continue to be tough with them.”
She also said there are currently “no specific plans” for Trump to meet with Putin.