After meeting with Putin, Trump told media that he believed the Russian leader's denials of state involvement in the 2016 US election.
Trump’s conclusion contradicts his own intelligence agencies. It is only days since 12 Russian officers were indicted for interfering in the 2016 US election, won by Trump.
“President Putin says it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
His comments have been met with disbelief and outrage with even senior members of his own party shocked.
President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) July 16, 2018
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
In a statement, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” and said: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Republicans blast Trump over the Putin meeting
Former CIA director John O. Brennan described Trump’s comments as “nothing short of treasonous”.
Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, took to Twitter to voice his disgust. said it was “the most serious mistake of his presidency”.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also issued a statement on Trump’s remarks stating: “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.
"You have been watching one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader that I’ve ever seen."
Anderson Cooper and other TV anchors were left shocked after Trump's meeting with Putinhttps://t.co/9D9XXDb0qU
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 16, 2018
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, also issued a statement joining the chorus of condemnation. He called the president’s comments “bizarre” and “flat-out wrong”.
“When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” the statement read.
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) July 16, 2018
On a Twitter video, Arnold Schwarzenegger, formerly the Republican Governor of California slammed Trump’s performance as “embarassing”.
“You literally sold out at this press conference our intelligence community, our justice system and, worst of all, our country,” Schwarzenegger said, addressing Trump.
Trump’s approach was also condemned by the Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that Trump aligning himself with Russia instead of American intelligence agencies and law enforcement was “thoughtless, dangerous, and weak”.
For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 16, 2018
While Trump has always denied the claims, US intelligence agencies have previously concluded that Russia orchestrated an intervention in the 2016 US election, using fake news stories and cyber attacks to assist Trump’s presidential campaign. The House Committee on Intelligence also concluded that Russia had meddled in the election process.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
Trump’s rejection of Russian involvement contradicts recent comments from his National Security Advisor John Bolton, who said on 14 July 2018 that he finds it “hard to believe” Putin did not know about Russian interference in the election.
Trump tried to frame the meeting with Putin as a continuation of a long-standing diplomatic approach. “From the earliest days of our republic, American leaders have understood that diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility,” he said.
Putin described the summit as the “first important step,” between a closer relationship between the two countries.
While there was no agreement to come out of their meeting, the two leaders intend it to be part of an ongoing dialogue. Trump’s growing closeness with Putin contrasts with his frayed relationships with leaders of the world’s developed nations. Earlier this year he was at odds with the other G7 leaders. Just days ago, he raised eyebrows by declaring the EU a “foe”.