WASHINGTON — President Trump defended on Wednesday his decision to disregard the advice of his national security team and congratulate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on his re-election, lashing out at the news media for reporting on how he diverged from his script and attacking his predecessors for failing to improve relations with Moscow.
Mr. Trump, enraged after officials leaked the contents of confidential notes he was given for the private phone call on Tuesday that exhorted him “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Mr. Putin, argued in a pair of tweets on Wednesday afternoon that the conversation was part of his effort to foster better relations with Russia. He said such engagement could help the United States confront a host of national security challenges.
“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also),” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to President Barack Obama’s call to Mr. Putin in 2012. “The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong!”
But Mr. Trump’s handling of the call and his defense of it also pointed up his aversion to confronting Mr. Putin about Moscow’s misdeeds, which has become a theme of his presidency even as a special counsel investigates Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election in his favor.
Mr. Trump’s own advisers had warned him against congratulating Mr. Putin and, in briefing cards prepared before the call, told him to raise Moscow’s role in a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter living in Britain, an instruction he also ignored. The Washington Post first reported on the briefing cards, a leak that stunned some senior officials at the White House, where aides said on Wednesday that John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, had been deeply disappointed and frustrated by the disclosure.
One senior White House official said Mr. Trump had never seen the briefing cards. Another said the president had been determined not to antagonize Mr. Putin, believing that his rapport with the Russian leader was the key to better relations between the countries.
It was that rationale that Mr. Trump appeared to embrace on Wednesday.
“Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” the president wrote. “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race.”
The president also took on his predecessors, both Republican and Democrat, saying they had been incapable of forging better relations with Moscow.
“Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the ‘smarts,’” Mr. Trump wrote. “Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET).”
He was referring to the policy of Hillary Clinton, his 2016 campaign rival, who as secretary of state in Mr. Obama’s administration pursued a “reset” with Russia aimed at turning around a dysfunctional relationship.
The call revived questions about Mr. Trump’s stance toward Mr. Putin just after his administration had taken its most aggressive steps against Moscow, moving last week to impose sanctions for Russia’s interference in the election and other “malicious cyberattacks.”
The United States also joined Britain, France and Germany in denouncing the Russian government for violating international law for the attack on the spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia.
Still, since his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Putin over the summer, Mr. Trump has consistently refused to criticize the Russian president directly. In November, after a meeting with Mr. Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Mr. Trump said the Russian president “means it” when he denied having meddled in the 2016 election, and was “very insulted by” the charge, which is the conclusion of American intelligence agencies.
Mr. Trump began his day on Wednesday indirectly criticizing Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for the Russia investigation, continuing to attack him by name against the advice of his own lawyers.
“I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be Special Council,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter in quotes he attributed to Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. “I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a Special Council appointed because there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise, or obstruction of justice!”
It was not immediately clear on Wednesday which remarks of Mr. Dershowitz’s the president was quoting. An interview with Mr. Dershowitz on Fox News on Tuesday and an opinion piece by Mr. Dershowitz published on Wednesday did not include the exact phrasing that Mr. Trump used in his tweets. And the language was not found in a search of Mr. Dershowitz’s cable news appearances over the past week.