Shortly after the absolutely unsurprising re-election of Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump was given explicit instructions in his daily briefing materials to avoid congratulating his counterpart.
But despite the all-caps notation reading “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” Trump did so anyway, according to a report Tuesday by The Washington Post.
According to a White House statement, “President Trump congratulated President Putin on his March 18 re-election, and emphasized the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders confirmed the need for the United States and Russia to continue our shared efforts on strategic stability.”
“We had a very good call,” Trump told reporters at the White House after the exchange, noting that the pair “will probably be meeting in the not-too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”
The Post noted that the same briefing document supplied to the president about the call also urged Trump to discuss allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to condemn a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England earlier this month.
The president did neither, and the Post said it was unclear if Trump had even read the material.
Rather, the White House said the leaders discussed “the state of bilateral relations and resolved to continue dialogue about mutual national security priorities and challenges.” The Kremlin has denied tampering with U.S. elections and any involvement in the poisoning.
The president defended his decision to congratulate Putin on Wednesday, tweeting: “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
“They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race,” he added in a second tweet. “PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”
The departure from his aides’ suggestions is relatively normal for Trump, who often goes off script and ignores the advice of his advisers and lawyers. He has often refrained from outright condemnation of Russia and has mostly refused to comment on claims that the country tried to influence the last presidential election.
Last week, however, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on several Russian citizens and organizations over the country’s role in such meddling. Trump also said at the time it “looks like” Russia was behind the nerve gas attack, although he refrained from harsher punishments akin to Britain’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.
Trump’s congratulatory call sparked immediate condemnation from some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said the president “insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”