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Trump and Putin discussed ‘Russian hoax’ as part of hourlong phone conversation

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone for more than an hour Friday about topics including the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, the White House said.

The two touched "very, very briefly" on Mueller's findings, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.

"It was discussed, essentially in the context that it's over, and there was no collusion, which I'm pretty sure both leaders were very well aware of long before this call took place," Sanders told reporters at the White House.

Sanders said most of the conversation was devoted to other topics, including nuclear agreements between the two nations, Trump's efforts to denuclearize North Korea, trade and the unrest in Venezuela.

She said the White House would provide more information later Friday.

Trump later tweeted about the call, referring to the Muller investigation as the “Russian Hoax.”

“As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he wrote. "We discussed Trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, Nuclear Arms Control and even the ‘Russian Hoax.’ Very productive talk!

Mueller's report concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election "in sweeping and systematic fashion."

The interference included both a social media campaign that favored Trump and disparaged Democrat Hillary Clinton, and the hacking of computers maintained by allies of Clinton and the subsequent releases of stolen documents.

The report did not find sufficient evidence to bring charges of criminal conspiracy with Russia against Trump or anyone associated with his campaign. It did not offer a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Attorney General William Barr later concluded that there was not sufficient evidence for obstruction of justice, but House Democrats are continuing to pursue that issue.

Asked whether Trump had spoken directly to Putin about Russian interference in the election, Sanders did not answer directly.

"The conversation on that part was very quick," she said, "but what I can tell you is that this administration, unlike the previous one, takes election meddling seriously, and we're going to do everything that we can to prevent it from happening."

Sanders said Trump and Putin also discussed the possibility of extending a current nuclear agreement, or "starting a new one that includes China."

She said the two leaders discussed trade "and the fact that it's increased between the two countries since the president has come into office."

Regarding North Korea, Trump's focus was on "the importance of Russia stepping up and continuing to help and put pressure on North Korea to denuclearize," Sanders said.

When the conversation turned to Venezuela, Sanders said Trump reiterated "the need for a peaceful transition." Russia is supporting President Nicolás Maduro over U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

In a statement issued late Wednesday, the White House said that Russia "must leave" Venezuela, and "renounce their support of the Maduro regime." Russia has significant investments in Venezuela and has been a strong backer of Maduro.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the same message in a Thursday call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov answered in kind, calling on the United States not to interfere and proposing political negotiations to resolve the Venezuelan crisis.

The Kremlin said that the "long" conversation was at Trump's initiative, and made no mention of discussion of the Mueller probe.

The Kremlin said Putin updated Trump on the Russian president's recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and emphasized that Ukraine's newly elected president needed to take steps toward resolving the conflict with Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin said the two also covered Venezuela.

Putin and Trump also discussed potential areas of cooperation, the Kremlin said, including on economic issues and arms control, and agreed that the United States and Russia should keep talking.

"A mutual commitment was confirmed to activating dialogue in various spheres, including on questions of strategic stability," the Kremlin said. "The heads of state expressed satisfaction with the conversation, which was of a businesslike and constructive character."

Putin has echoed some of Trump's talking points in ridiculing the Mueller probe. Russian state television described it as a witch hunt orchestrated by the U.S. political establishment to punish Trump for seeking to improve ties with Russia. Putin has denied that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

"We knew a mountain was being made out of a molehill, so to speak, because we knew how it would end beforehand," Putin said last month. "Now it has come to pass, but it did not make the domestic political situation in the U.S. any easier. Now new excuses are being sought to attack President Trump."

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Troianovski reported from Moscow. The Post’s Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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