Donald Trump has conversed with Vladimir Putin for the third time in six weeks as the confusion at the heart of his administration over Russian policy was revealed in a report.
The US president said the call was primarily about getting Russia’s co-operation on North Korea but added that Mr Putin made some “very nice” comments about his time in office.
It came as The Washington Post published a 7,000-word expose on the internal battles over Mr Trump’s Russia policy in the last year.
The paper reported that Mr Trump’s refusal to endorse the intelligence agencies’ view that Russia hacked the election had undermined attempts to retaliate.
It said that some officials downplay information about Russia in intelligence briefings with the president for fear of triggering his ire.
Some aides have even adopted a “don’t walk that last 5 ½ feet” position, meaning do not enter the Oval Office amid fears Mr Trump could “erupt” or “overrule” decisions, it was reported.
Mr Trump called Mr Putin, the Russian prime minister, on Thursday to thank him for “acknowledging America’s strong economic performance” at a press conference.
There has also been a battle over whether to return to Russian compounds in America that the US government seized as a punishment under Barack Obama.
Mr Trump’s supporters note that he has signed legislation bringing in new sanctions on Moscow and closed three Russian diplomatic facilities as proof he has not gone easy on the country.
Asked about his call to Mr Putin, Mr Trump said on Friday: “We would love to have his help on North Korea. China is helping. Russia is not helping."
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Asked if he would pardon Mr Flynn, Mr Trump said: "I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens.”