President Donald Trump, battling allegations that Russia helped him win the White House, claimed Wednesday that Vladimir Putin actually would have preferred a Hillary Clinton victory.
Decrying what he called a political "witch hunt," the president also came to the defence of his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, after the release of emails showing his namesake's embrace of a Russian offer to provide derogatory information about Clinton during the campaign.
The email exchange has been described in some quarters as a possible "smoking gun" in the ongoing investigation by an independent prosecutor into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow to get the Republican elected.
But in an interview with Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, the billionaire president nonetheless claimed his Russian counterpart would have preferred a win by the Democrat Clinton in 2016.
"There are many things that I do that are the exact opposite of what he (Putin) would want," Trump said, even though he got along "very, very well" with the long time Russian leader, whom he met in Hamburg last week.
"So what I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think 'probably not,' because when I want a strong military, you know she wouldn't have spent the money on military," he said.
"When I want tremendous energy — we're opening up coal, we're opening up natural gas, we're opening up fracking, all the things that he would hate — but nobody ever mentions that," he said.
Trump said that while he only learned of his son's 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer "a couple of days ago," he did not fault Donald Jr for holding the talks.
"I think many people would have held that meeting," he told the Reuters news agency.
"This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!" tweeted Trump, who has kept a low profile since returning from a Group of 20 summit in Germany and flew out of Washington again late Wednesday for a visit to France.
"Getting rdy to leave for France @ the invitation of President Macron to celebrate & honor Bastille Day and 100yrs since U.S. entry into WWI," the US president tweeted prior to taking off.
He followed that tweet with a flurry of Twitter missives praising the job and US stock market gains:
"JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!" he tweeted.
‘LITTLE TIME' FOR TV
As US media reported of "chaos" at the White House, Trump personally sought Wednesday to dispel the image of an administration in crisis and a president obsessed with TV coverage of it.