- Standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference on Monday, US President Donald Trump indicated that he believes Russia over the US intelligence community when it comes to the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 US election.
- When asked whether he would publicly condemn Putin for Russia’s interference, Trump proceeded to bash the Democratic National Committee, the FBI, and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
- Trump said that while he had “great confidence” in the US intelligence community, Putin was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial” of Russia’s election meddling.
- Republican lawmakers condemned Trump’s statements, and some former government officials and intelligence veterans suggested his remarks rose to the level of treason.
Following a high-stakes one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, US President Donald Trump refused to say he trusts the US intelligence community, bashed the FBI and the Democratic National Committee, and indicated that he believed Putin over American intelligence agencies.
After the Associated Press White House reporter Jonathan Lemire asked Trump during a joint press conference with Putin who he believed and whether he would publicly denounce Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and warn Putin never to do it again, Trump declined to do so and appeared to pin the blame on the US.
“We have two thoughts,” Trump said. “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the [DNC] server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that.”
He added: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me … They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.
“I will say this,” Trump said. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump’s comments flew in the face of the US intelligence community’s findings in January 2017 that the Russian government mounted an elaborate, multifaceted campaign aimed at elevating Trump to the presidency.
Trump has long been reluctant to accept that conclusion, and he is said to believe it undermines his 2016 election victory.
He indicated as much on Monday, touting his Electoral College victory and denigrating Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who ran against him in 2016.
“What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” Trump said. “Thirty-three thousand emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.”
Trump said that while he had “great confidence” in the US intelligence community, Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial” of Russia’s election meddling.
Putin, meanwhile, said the “final conclusion” on the issue of Russian meddling would be made by the US courts and not “by the law enforcement” or any member of the executive branch.
Putin also pushed another frequent talking point, saying that some of the Russians who have been indicted in the Russia investigation, led by the special counsel Robert Mueller, were not part of the Russian state.
The US intelligence community has long believed that the Kremlin often uses proxies and outside groups to do its bidding in order to maintain plausible deniability.
Referring to the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers announced Friday, Putin said the special counsel should send Russia a request for criminal extradition and that the Russian government would “analyse it properly” and “send a formal response” back to the US.
“Let’s discuss the specific issues” and not use US-Russia relations as “loose change for this internal political struggle,” Putin said.
Trump stuns national-security and intelligence veterans
Trump’s comments ignited a firestorm among US lawmakers, foreign-policy experts, and intelligence veterans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Trump missed an opportunity to “firmly hold Russia accountable” for its actions and warn it not to meddle in the US electoral process again.
“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” Graham said.
“This is an astounding news conference even by Trump standards,”said Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence. “The President of the United States just questioned publicly the conclusions of the US intelligence community and spread conspiracy theories to excuse Russia’s cyber attack on the United States. Treasonous.”
John Brennan, the former director of the CIA who has frequently criticised Trump, also suggested Trump’s comments constituted treason.
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanours,'”Brennan tweeted. “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???”
More coverage of the Trump-Putin summit:
- Republicans blast Trump for his ‘disgusting’ press conference with Putin
- Putin attacks US reporter’s question about Mueller probe and collusion
- Former CIA director says Trump’s press conference with Putin was ‘nothing short of treasonous’
- Anderson Cooper slams Trump-Putin press conference as ‘perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president’
- Putin just confirmed he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election
- Trump and Putin could be reigniting talks to create a cybersecurity task force
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