McCain blasts Trump for ‘tragic mistake’ after Putin summit

Senator rails against ‘disgraceful performance’ as Republicans round on Trump

Senator John McCain: “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivety, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.” Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/File Photo/Reuters

Senator John McCain: “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivety, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.” Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/File Photo/Reuters

 

Veteran Republican senator John McCain led criticism of Monday’s performance by President Donald Trump at a press conference with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, lambasting the summit as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivety, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake,” he said in a statement.

The Arizona senator said that Mr Trump was “not only unable, but unwilling” to stand up to the Russian president.

“He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.”

His searing statement was one of the most direct criticisms of Mr Trump’s summit from congressional Republicans. South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said the summit had been a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections”. He added that it was a “sign of weakness”.

‘Not our ally’

Outgoing House speaker Paul Ryan also weighed in, stating that the president “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”.

However, most of the criticism came from outgoing Republican lawmakers, with many of Congress’s most senior Republicans keeping their counsel.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who is not contesting the midterm elections, posted on Twitter: “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.” Similarly, outgoing senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said the President’s comments had “made us look as a nation like a pushover,” saying Mr Putin had gained a lot from the summit.

In his first public comments after leaving Helsinki, Mr Trump tweeted from Air Force One that he had “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,” he said.

But several current and former intelligence officials questioned Mr Trump’s approach to his first one-to-one summit with the Russian president.

Former CIA director John Brennan tweeted: “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.”

Democrats weigh in

Democrats wasted no time in criticising the president, who has been under constant pressure over alleged ties between members of his campaign team and Russian individuals since he assumed the US presidency in January 2017.

In a press conference in Washington, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer described Mr Trump’s performance as “shameful”.

“I didn’t think it could get worse than his performance at the Nato summit, but it sure did,” he said. “Trump has strengthened our adversaries . . . A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: what could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behaviour is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”

He called on the president to agree to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign team and Russia.