WHITE HOUSE —
Russian President Vladimir Putin would have preferred Hillary Clinton in the White House instead of Donald Trump, the U.S. president asserted on Wednesday.
“If Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive,” Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network's founder, Pat Robertson.
“That's what Putin doesn't like about me,” the president added. “And that's why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military. He doesn't want to see that.”
CBN posted excerpts of the interview online Wednesday. The network, which says its reports provide "the Christian perspective" on the news, will issue a fuller version Thursday, as part of its “700 Club” program.
Trump: ‘We need dialogue’
Trump said his initial “excellent meeting” with Putin last week, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany, was productive despite their differences.
“We need dialogue with everybody,” the president said.
“Well, he wants what's good for Russia, and I want what's good for the United States. And I think in a case like Syria where we can get together, do a cease-fire — and there are many other cases where getting along can be a very positive thing — but always Putin is going to want Russia and Trump is going to want the United States (to succeed), and that's the way it is,” Trump said in the account provided by CBN.
The current cease-fire in Syria remains intact, in contrast to previous efforts to stop the violence there, which Trump said “haven't held at all.”
The success of this one, he said, is “because President Putin and President Trump made the deal, and it's held. Now, I don't know what's going to happen (next). Maybe as we're speaking they start shooting again.”
Robertson, the 87-year-old network chairman, began his career as a conservative Baptist minister. During their conversation Trump also spoke about the threat that North Korea poses to the world, about Middle Eastern countries' funding of terrorism and about U.S. health-care legislation.
CBN is the first U.S. media outlet apart from Fox News to be granted an interview with Trump in the past two months. The interview took place Wednesday morning, prior to the president's scheduled evening departure for France.
In Paris, Trump is to hold a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday and will be the guest of honor on Friday at Bastille Day celebrations marking France's national holiday.
The White House is hoping that a quick dash of French pomp and circumstance will distract from the constant barrage of negative news about links between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia.
Trump tweets about his son
The president, taking to Twitter earlier on Wednesday, defended his son, Donald Trump Jr., who released emails a day earlier showing the junior Trump welcomed Russian help last year in an attempt to obtain damaging information about his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump defended his son, who discussed the email controversy Tuesday on Fox News. In a post to Twitter, the president said Donald Trump Jr. was "open transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!"
A Reuters reporter asked the president Wednesday if he had known about his son's meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year.
The president responded: “No, that I didn't know until a couple of days ago, when I heard about this.”
Trump said he does not blame his son for holding the meeting.
“I think many people would have held that meeting,” he noted during another interview at the White House later Wednesday.
Watch: Trump Defends Outreach to Russia and His Son Donald Jr.