Trump’s defence of Russia sparks barrage of US criticism

‘It is clear the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake,’ says John McCain

Speaking after a one-on-one meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said he saw no reason to believe Russia had hacked the 2016 presidential election to help him win. Video: Reuters

 

US president Donald Trump returned to Washington on Monday night to face a barrage of criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, after he defended Russia against allegations of election meddling following a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In an extraordinary intervention by a sitting US president, Mr Trump said he saw “no reason to believe” that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Standing alongside the Russian president at a joint press conference in Helsinki, Mr Trump said Mr Putin had been “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today”.

He went on to insist that there had been “no collusion” with Russia. “I beat Hillary Clinton easily . . . We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president,” he said.

In a sign of growing concern within the Republican Party about Mr Trump’s conduct at the press conference, senior Republicans lambasted their president’s performance. Senator John McCain denounced the summit as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia

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

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

Mr McCain – a frequent critic of Mr Trump – was joined by other Republicans, including House speaker Paul Ryan who said Mr Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”.

‘Not our ally’

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world . . . The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.”

The US and Russian leaders held a two-hour, face-to-face meeting, followed by an hour-long meeting with senior advisers. In a rambling press conference, during which Mr Trump referred repeatedly to Ms Clinton’s election defeat and denounced the Russia investigation, he said “both countries” were to blame for deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia.

I did hear these rumours. When President Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know he was in Moscow

Responding to questions from reporters, Mr Putin admitted he had wanted Mr Trump to win the 2016 election. But he denied any interference in the US election.

‘Internal affairs’

“President Trump mentioned the so-called interference of Russia in the American elections. I had to reiterate things I said several times: that the Russian state has never interfered, and is not going to interfere, in internal American affairs, including the election process.”

US president Donald Trump receives a football from Russian president Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Grigory Dukor/Reuters
US president Donald Trump receives a football from Russian president Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Grigory Dukor/Reuters

Asked if he had compromising material on Mr Trump, Mr Putin replied: “I did hear these rumours. When President Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know he was in Moscow . . . Nobody informed me that he was in Moscow . . . Please disregard these issues.”

A smiling Mr Putin presented the US president with a World Cup football during the press conference. “Now the ball is in your court,” he said, as Mr Trump passed the ball to his wife, Melania, who was sitting in the front row.

In a riposte to the US president, Mr Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coates, issued a statement reiterating his agency’s belief in the “ongoing, pervasive efforts” of Russia to “undermine our democracy”.