Trump Faces Criticism After Summit 07/17 06:15
In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump
openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' firm finding that Russia
meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Russian
President Vladimir Putin's insistence that Moscow's hands were clean.
HELSINKI (AP) -- In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy,
President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies' firm
finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming
to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin's insistence that Moscow's hands
The reaction back home was immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans
as well as usual Trump critics. "Shameful," ''disgraceful," ''weak," were a few
of the comments. Makes the U.S. "look like a pushover," said GOP Sen. Bob
Corker of Tennessee.
Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the
international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor
--- but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.
His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was
a stark illustration of Trump's willingness to upend decades of U.S. foreign
policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns. A wary
and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party's world view.
But Trump made clear he feels that any firm acknowledgement of Russia's
involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.
Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the
Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week's
federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email
accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
"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.
"He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why
it would be," Trump said.
His skepticism drew a quick formal statement --- almost a rebuttal --- from
Trump's director of national Intelligence, Dan Coats.
"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016
election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and
we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support
of our national security," Coats said.
Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a
half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned home
Monday night from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a
"conscious choice to defend a tyrant" and achieved "one of the most disgraceful
performances by an American president in memory." House Speaker Paul Ryan, who
rarely criticizes Trump, stressed there was "no question" that Russia had
Even staunch Trump backer Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, called
Trump's comments "the most serious mistake of his presidency" and said they
"must be corrected --- immediately."
Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama,
called Trump's words "nothing short of treasonous." Brennan tweeted: "Not only
were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.
Republican Patriots: Where are you???"
In a Fox News Channel interview after the summit, Putin pronounced the
meetings "the beginning of the path" back from the West's past efforts to
isolate Russia. "I think you see for yourself that these efforts failed, and
they were never bound to succeed," he said.
As he flew home to Washington aboard Air Force One, Trump tried to clarify
his position via tweet, saying: "As I said today and many times before, 'I have
GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.' However, I also recognize that in
order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past - as
the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!"
In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity that aired later Monday, Trump
said "it's a shame" that he and Putin were being asked questions about the
Russia probe while they were trying to discuss issues like Syria and nuclear
proliferation. "We've had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart," he said.
In their totality, Trump's remarks amounted to an unprecedented embrace of a
man who for years has been isolated by the U.S. and Western allies for actions
in Ukraine, Syria and beyond. And it came at the end of an extraordinary trip
to Europe in which Trump had already berated allies, questioned the value of
the NATO alliance and demeaned leaders including Germany's Angela Merkel and
Britain's Theresa May.
The two leaders' long-awaited summit began with a private face-to-face
sitdown --- just the leaders and their interpreters --- that lasted more than
two hours, before additional meetings joined by senior aides.
The pair had held lengthy talks before --- on the sidelines of world leader
meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year --- but this was their first official
summit and was being watched closely, especially following the announcement
Friday of new indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of
hacking Democratic emails to help Trump's campaign.
Asked about the indictments, Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington
could jointly conduct the investigation, inviting special counsel Robert
Mueller's investigators to come to Russia to interview the 12 people --- an
idea Trump hailed as an "incredible offer."
Putin said he'd expect the U.S. to return the favor and cooperate in the
Russian probe against William Browder, a British investor charged with
financial crimes in Russia. Browder, an outspoken Putin critic, was a driving
force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.
The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States --- and not
Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea --- for a low-point in
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse," Trump tweeted Monday
morning, blaming "many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the
Rigged Witch Hunt!"
The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump's tweet and then
replying, "We agree."
Asked whether Russia was responsible at all, Trump said "we're all to blame"
for the soured relations.
However, "that changed," he said, "as of about four hours ago."
Putin ridiculed as "sheer nonsense" allegations that Russian intelligence
agencies had collected compromising information on Trump during his visit to
Moscow years before the election, saying that he had no idea Trump was even
Trump also dismissed the idea in his interview with Hannity, adding, "If
they had it, it would have been out."
Still, Putin said he had indeed wanted Trump to win the election --- a
revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump's performance
--- but had taken no action to make it happen.
"Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-U.S.
ties," Putin said. "Isn't it natural to feel sympathy to a person who wanted to
develop relations with our country? It's normal."
At the closing press conference, Putin, riding high after hosting a
successful World Cup, unveiled a gift he'd brought for Trump: a red and white
soccer ball, which he tossed to Trump at the neighboring lectern. Trump passed
it over to his wife, and said they'd give it to their soccer-loving 12-year-old
Out on the streets, the summit attracted a grab-bag of protesters, with
abortion-rights activists wearing artificially bulging bellies and Trump masks,
anti-fascist protesters bearing signs with expletive-laden insults, and free
traders, anti-war Ukrainians and gay rights supporters making their voices