- President Donald Trump’s supporters in the media faced a test Monday when they were forced to respond to the president’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
- While some of Trump’s staunchest promoters defended his performance at the press conference, others broke from him.
- Some hosts acknowledged being confused by Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian election interference, while others attempted to explain the president’s thinking.
President Donald Trump’s supporters in the media faced a test Monday when they were forced to respond to the president’s press conference in Helsinki, during which Trump, standing beside the Russian president, challenged the US intelligence community’s findings that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 US election.
Trump’s defence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hostility toward democracies around the world and his refusal to hold the Russian leader accountable provoked bipartisan outrage and confusion. Both Democratic and Republican leadership – and a wide range of media personalities – condemned the president’s comments, calling them everything from “an absolute disgrace” to a “missed opportunity.”
Fox News’ chief White House correspondent, John Roberts, reported that there was a “growing consensus” that Trump “threw the United States under the bus,” and on Monday night he told Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson, who interviewed Trump after the summit and has defended the president’s performance, that Trump refused to publicly condemn Putin’s election meddling because he didn’t want to get “bogged down in the details.”
“He thought it was important to have a dialogue with Vladimir Putin – almost a parallel with Kim Jung Un – where he was willing to rise above everything else that was going on out there, not get bogged down in the details of it, even though it would appear like he was sort of throwing the intelligence community and other US institutions under the bus,” Roberts said.
‘Puzzled’ supporters criticised Trump’s performance
Trump’s most loyal backers – some of whom act as his informal advisers – including Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Carlson, stayed the course, dismissing the concerns of lawmakers, policy experts, and former intelligence community leaders.
But many staunch Trump supporters abandoned any attempt to justify his behaviour and some urged the president to issue a correction. Fox opinion and news hosts, many of whom rarely criticise the president, spent much of Monday and Tuesday expressing confusion and wondering about his motivations for doing what so many have described as indefensible.
“I don’t get it – I just don’t get it,” said Fox Business host Trish Regan, who occassionally pushes back on the GOP, arguing that Trump either should have defended the intelligence community and condemned Putin to his face or not taken the meeting in Helsinki. She called the episode “horrible.”
Maria Bartiromo – one of Trump’s most vocal cheerleaders at Fox Business – called the summit “probably the low point of the presidency so far.”
Holding of copy of the House Intelligence Committee’s March 2018 report on Russian election meddling, the anchor said there was no question that Moscow had attacked the American democratic process.
“But the president didn’t want to address it in front of Vladimir Putin, which is a head-scratcher,” said Bartiromo, who recently came under fire for a friendly interview with Trump in which she repeatedly agreed with or glossed over the president’s controversial or misleading statements.
The “Fox & Friends” cohost Steve Doocy, who rarely criticises the president, called Trump’s behaviour “puzzling” and insisted that Trump had previously had no problem acknowledging that Russia meddled in the election, despite the president’s record of spreading the blame for election interference to other countries and actors, including China.
Fox Business host Neil Cavuto, who is regularly critical of the president, called the press conference “disgusting.” The conservative website Drudge Report declared, “Putin Dominates in Hel,” referring to Helsinki. Newsmax’s Joe Walsh called Trump a “traitor.”
‘This is about the Russians undermining the US’
Several hosts, directly addressing the president, argued that Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election didn’t delegitimize Trump’s victory.
“The president’s under the impression – and I don’t know why, still – that if he says the Russians hacked, it makes his election look illegitimate,” said Brian Kilmeade, another cohost of Trump’s favourite cable-news show, “Fox & Friends.” Kilmeade added that Trump’s victory over 16 Republican primary opponents and Hillary Clinton couldn’t be credited to Russian interference, but he conceded that “Russia’s goal was to upend the electoral process.”
Doocy doubled down on the difference between Russian interference and collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
“A lot of people get confused – I’m not saying the president is confused,” Doocy went on. “There is a big difference between collusion and the meddling … pretty much everyone and their brother – except for Vladimir Putin – knows that there was meddling.”
Bartiromo repeated the point that any collusion – the subject of the special counsel’s ongoing investigation – was separate from the allegations that Moscow interfered in the election. She tried to make it clear, for viewers and, perhaps, the president that Trump shouldn’t feel personally undermined by the intelligence community’s findings.
“This has nothing to do with collusion – this is not about Donald Trump,” Bartiromo said. “This is about the Russians undermining the US, not about Donald Trump.”
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