HELSINKI (CNN) – Former CIA Director John Brennan called President Donald Trump’s performance at Monday’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin “nothing short of treasonous.”READ MORE: 2 Hospitalized Following Shooting On Turnpike
At the news conference following his one-on-one meeting Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Trump declined to endorse the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election over Putin’s denial, saying the Russian President was “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said during a joint news conference following his summit with Putin.
Trump’s statements came after he said he holds both the United States and Russia responsible for the breakdown in the relationship between the two countries and railed against the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish,” Trump said at the news conference in Helsinki, Finland.
“We should have, frankly, had this dialogue a long time ago. I think that we’re all to blame. I think that the United States has now stepped forward along with Russia,” Trump said, adding that he feels that the US and Russia have “both made some mistakes.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous,” Brennan, a frequent critic of Trump, tweeted during the event. “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Some members of the President’s party agreed.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, issued a blistering statement just minutes after the press conference wrapped.
Sasse rebuked Trump’s statement that he held “both countries responsible” for the deteriorated relationship between the United States and Russia.
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression,” Sasse said in the statement. “When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican and constant critic of Trump’s, called Trump’s performance “shameful.”
“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,” tweeted Flake, who is not running for re-election.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who has had a closer working relationship with Trump on issues related to health care and tax reform, tweeted that the summit was a “missed opportunity.”
“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections,” Graham tweeted. “This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”
Graham also warned Trump to leave a soccer ball, a gift from Putin, outside of the White House.
“If it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House,” Graham said.
Foreign policy must be based on reality,not hyperbole or wishful thinking. And the reality is #Russia is an adversary. Because #Putin doesn’t believe in win/win scenarios & thinks only way to make Russia stronger is to make U.S. weaker. Any approach not based on this will fail.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 16, 2018
Trump and Putin blew past the 90 minutes they were scheduled to spend with only interpreters at their sides on Monday, just hours after the US President blamed US policy for the dismal state of relations between the two countries.READ MORE: Miami Weather: Enjoy Cooler Temps, Warmer Trend On The Way
After their initial meeting, the two leaders brought in their top aides for an expanded bilateral meeting, the next step in their first official summit, and then concluded with a joint news conference.
Speaking to reporters, Trump again lambasted the special counsel’s investigation stemming from Russian interference in the 2016 election as “a disaster for our country.”
“I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us (the US and Russia) apart. I think it’s kept us separated,” Trump said.
The US President proclaimed in front of Putin that “there was no collusion” during the 2016 campaign and said he “beat Hillary Clinton easily.”
He added the Mueller probe has “had a negative impact on the relationship between the two nuclear powers.”
While Trump dove into specifics on US missteps, he did not list any malignant Russian activities responsible for the low point in the US-Russia relationship.
Putin, meanwhile, denied any Russian election interference.
Gathered at the Finnish presidential palace, a historic venue where previous US presidents have also gathered with their Russian and Soviet counterparts to tackle the complex bilateral relationship, Trump made clear at the outset that he hopes the meeting can help transform the relationship into an “extraordinary” one.
“I think we have great opportunities together as two countries that, frankly, we have not been getting along very well for the last number of years,” said Trump, who is hoping his personal touch can reverse the steep decline. “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.”
But the highly anticipated meetings that had been minutely planned began with a sluggish start after the Russian President arrived late, setting the summit about 45 minutes back.
Putin is known for arriving late to important events, considered a power play by some observers.
In 2009 and 2012, Putin showed up about 40 and 45 minutes late for his meetings with then-President Barack Obama. But he kept German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych waiting about four hours each in 2014 and 2012, respectively. Even the Pope waited more than an hour for Putin to show up at the Vatican in 2015.
The two men walked into the palace’s Gothic Hall together, offering brief remarks and shaking hands for the cameras before the two men were left alone — save for a pair of interpreters — for the first meeting of the day.
Trump and Putin had set aside 90 minutes of solo time — just as Trump did with Kim Jong Un last month. But the two men spilled into overtime, inviting reporters for the start of their expanded bilateral meeting with top aides 2 hours and 11 minutes after their one-on-one meeting began. Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Fiona Hill, the top Russia expert at the National Security Council, and interpreter Marina Gross.
The lengthy tête-à-tête made Trump’s remarks ahead of the meeting all the more notable — and concerning to some.
US officials have stressed the path to improving US-Russia ties runs through a clear-eyed understanding of Russian aggression and the root causes of discord in the relationship, but Trump is signaling a different course. He is holding previous US administrations and the Justice Department’s investigation stemming from Russian meddling in the 2016 election responsible.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted Monday morning ahead of the summit.
Trump’s Monday morning tweet and his words and actions in the last week have only amplified concerns about his approach to Russia among US allies and lawmakers of both parties in Washington. During his swing through Brussels and the United Kingdom, Trump has repeatedly criticized US allies, called the European Union a “foe” and criticized the Obama administration rather than Russia in the wake of the Justice Department’s indictment of 12 Russian agents who allegedly worked to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks during the 2016 election.MORE NEWS: Cold Fronts Bring More Than Just Cool Dry Air To South Florida
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