Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said Friday he believes Donald Trump actually lost the 2016 election and is president only because of Russian interference.

Carter made the comments during a discussion on human rights at a resort in Leesburg, Va., without offering any evidence for his statements.

“There is no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election,” Carter said. “And I think the interference, though not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.”

The U.S. intelligence community asserted in a 2017 report that Russia had worked to help Trump during the election and to undermine the candidacy of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. Trump won in the electoral college 306-232 despite receiving nearly three million fewer votes overall than his main rival, with a further seven million Americans voting for presidential candidates other than Trump or Clinton.

The intelligence agencies did not assess whether that interference had affected the election or contributed to Trump’s victory, and no evidence has emerged that votes were changed improperly.

Jimmy Carter has on occasion defended Trump, but on Friday he suggested Trump wouldn’t have won the 2016 election without Russian help. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report identified two criminal schemes by Russia to interfere in the election: the hacking of Democratic email accounts and a social media campaign to spread disinformation online and sway public opinion.

Mueller’s report did not establish that Trump proxies conspired with Russia during the campaign, though it did say his campaign appeared receptive to Russian government help based on a controversial June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. It wasn’t clear enough to establish a criminal conviction beyond a reasonable doubt that the Trump associates who attended that meeting knew they were potentially running afoul of federal law, the report said.

As well, the report said, “several U.S. persons connected to the campaign made false statements about those contacts” and took steps to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.

The report also established the Russian efforts were designed to favour Trump’s campaign.

‘Don’t meddle in the election’

Russian President Vladimir Putin, while standing alongside the U.S. president last year at a summit in Helsinki, admitted to reporters his preference was for Trump over Clinton.

On Friday, Trump appeared to mock-admonish Putin for election interference when the leaders met again, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

As the leaders prepared to meet one on one, a reporter asked Trump if he would warn Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election.

“Of course,” the president replied. Then he turned to Putin and facetiously said, “Don’t meddle in the election.” He playfully repeated the request while pointing at Putin, who laughed.

In Finland, Trump refrained from publicly criticizing Putin about election interference.

Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to criticize the president, saying he was making light of the serious issues of election interference.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday the joke is on America and “Putin’s the only one laughing.”

“President Trump is basically giving Putin a green light to interfere in 2020,” Schumer tweeted.

Earlier this month, Trump was criticized after suggesting in an interview with ABC News that he would be receptive to hearing damaging information about a potential 2020 Democratic rival from a foreign source, and that he wouldn’t necessarily contact the FBI about the overture.

While Carter has urged Trump to be more truthful in the past few years, he has not been as critical of Trump as many other notable Democrats.

“I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter told the New York Times in late 2017.

A few months later, Carter suggested Trump could be a worthy contender for the Nobel Peace Prize ahead of the U.S. president’s historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore.