Days before returning home from a whirlwind trip to Asia, US President Donald Trump was back on the defensive over Russian election meddling, saying he considers President Vladimir Putin's denials sincere.
He dismissed former US intelligence officials as "political hacks" and accused Democrats of trying to sabotage relations between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said Putin had again vehemently insisted - this time on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam - that Moscow had not interfered in the 2016 US election.
Trump declined to say whether he believed Putin, but he made clear he wasn't interested in dwelling on the issue.
"He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did," Trump said as he travelled to Hanoi, the second-to-last stop of his Asia trip.
"Every time he sees me, he said: 'I didn't do that.' And I believe - I really believe - that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said.
He called the accusation an "artificial barrier" erected by Democrats - once again casting doubt on the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the election to help the Republican Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In a tweet sent on Sunday from Hanoi, Trump bashed the "haters and fools" he said are questioning his efforts to improve relations with Russia and accused critics of "playing politics" and hurting the country.
Trump travelled to Hanoi for a brief state visit. He was due in the Philippines later on Sunday for a pair of summits that will close out his trip.
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam but the two spoke informally several times and reached an agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria.
"Having a good relationship with Russia's a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way," Trump told reporters.
"People will die because of it."
Trump danced around the question of whether he believed Putin's denials, telling reporters that pressing the issue would have accomplished little.
"Well, look, I can't stand there and argue with him," Trump said.
"I'd rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I'd rather have him, you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not - 'cause that whole thing was set up by the Democrats."