On Monday, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Three days before the meeting, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russians and charged them with crimes associated with election meddling.
Despite President Trump having long said the Russian probe is a “witch hunt,” he has repeatedly told the media he would confront the Russian president about election meddling, predicting that Putin would simply deny the allegations.
But when Trump, standing beside Putin at the joint press conference, was asked point-blank about Russian election meddling, he would not condemn the Russian leader.
“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think that we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office,” Trump said.
And he added, “All I can do is ask the question — my people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be but I really want to see the server but, I have confidence in both parties.”
In what virtually all Democrats and even some Republicans saw as an act of submission to Putin, Trump would not publicly acknowledge that any election meddling took place, despite several United States intelligence agencies confirming it did.
Democrats, of course, were quick to respond. Sen. Bob Mendez (D-N.J.) described the meeting as “disturbing, shameful, jaw-dropping and disgraceful.”
“I am running out of words to describe how despicable it is to see an American President capitulate to a dictator,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said the Helsinki performance was a “complete disgrace.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the joint press conference represents a “sad day for America.” She added Trump’s “weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the President, personally, financially or politically.”
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) meanwhile said the president’s refusal to condemn Putin “should alarm us all” and “the president’s unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing.”
Republicans too joined in on the criticism:
Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted that the summit was “shameful,” and described his shock in seeing the president “would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said there is “no question” that Russia interfered in the United States elections.
“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,” Ryan said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the summit was a “missed opportunity to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Former CIA Director and political independent John Brennan was more harsh in his language, tweeting that Trump’s words at the press conference were “nothing short of treasonous.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Trump’s blame of the United States for bad relations with the Russians is “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”
President Trump, however, defended his performance in Helsinki on Twitter, saying that U.S. and Russia “must get along”:
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! #HELSINKI2018