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Trump's U.K. Visit Dominated By Criticisms Of British Prime Minister In Tabloid Interview


President Trump enjoyed pomp and pageantry as he closed out his visit here in England. But the day was dominated by controversy, beginning with negative remarks the president made to the British tabloid the Sun about prime minister Theresa May. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers for interference in the 2016 election. Now, this comes just days before Trump is due to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Finland.

NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been traveling with the president, and she joins me now. Hey there, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So what is the White House reaction to the news of these 12 Russians being indicted?

RASCOE: The White House is pointing out that there is no allegation that - in this indictment that any Americans committed a crime or knew they were communicating with the Russians. And they're also pointing out that the indictment doesn't say that there - that this conspiracy changed the vote count or affected the election results. What's striking, though, is that the White House statement does not call out Russia or take them to task over these allegations.

KELLY: President Trump held a news conference with prime minister Theresa May here in the U.K., as you know, before these indictments were announced. He was still talking about the Russian probe as a rigged witch hunt. And he got asked about this upcoming summit with Putin. What exactly did he have to say?

RASCOE: We know now that Trump had actually been briefed on these indictments before he went on this trip. So he knew about them when he was talking about - talking at the press conference. Trump said he plans to talk with Putin about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know you'll ask what will we be talking about - meddling? And I will absolutely bring that up. I don't think you'll have any, gee, I did it. I did it. You got me. There won't be a Perry Mason here, I don't think. But you never know what happens, right?

RASCOE: It's not clear that Trump will press Putin more now that these indictments have come out. Trump did defend his record with Putin. He said that he's been pressing NATO to spend more, and they are. And that's bad for Russia.

KELLY: Let me turn you to another matter, which is another thing that came up at this press conference today with Trump and Theresa May - those comments he made to the Sun in which he said May should have taken his advice on how to handle Brexit, that she didn't and that therefore a trade deal with the U.K. might be off. But then this kind of turned around at the press conference. What happened?

RASCOE: So he denied that he criticized her. He said he made very positive comments about May that weren't highlighted. But he is on tape saying these things. He did say that he - that the U.S. is willing to make a trade deal with the U.K. and that basically U.K. just needs to work out Brexit on their own and that, as long as the U.S. can trade with the U.K., that's fine with him.

KELLY: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe, traveling with the president. Thanks.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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