HELSINKI (CNN) – President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir 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.
The two leaders kicked off their first official summit Monday afternoon 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 hoped their meeting would 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 before the meeting.”I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.”
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.
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.
The 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. Trump raised eyebrows when he blamed previous US administrations and the Justice Department’s investigation stemming from Russian meddling in the 2016 election responsible for the poor relations.
“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.
“It ignores Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014, its intervention in Syria in 2015 it’s interference in our election in 2016,” said William Burns, a former US Ambassador to Russia.
After their meeting, Trump said he holds both the United States and Russia responsible for the breakdown in the relationship, thus adding Russia to the mix.
“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish,” Trump said. “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 he feels that the US and Russia have “both made some mistakes.” He again lambasted the special counsel’s investigation stemming from Russian interference in the 2016 election as “a disaster for our country.”
Putin said Trump raised the issue of Russian interference. He said his country had “never interfered and is not going to interfere” in US domestic politics.
Describing what he characterized as the “so-called Russian interference in the US electoral process,” Putin repeated his longstanding assertion that the Russian state was not involved in attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
“I had to reiterate what I’ve said on many occasions, including during personal meeting with the President, that Russia has never interfered in and is not going to interfere in US internal affairs, including the elections,” Putin said in remarks to the press following the discussions. “If there are any specific materials, if they are presented, we are ready to review them together.”
When asked by the press who he believed, Putin or US intelligence which said Russia meddled in the election, Trump sided with the Russian leader.
He said Putin was “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial.
The US President the pivoted to the Democratic National Committee’s email server and Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
“I have confidence in both parties,” Trump said of Russia and the US intelligence community. “I have real confidence in my intelligence people, but I must tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Trump said. Trump said he doesn’t “see any reason” why Russia would be responsible for meddling in the 2016 election and said all he can do in his discussions with Putin “is ask the question.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump’s performance at Monday’s news conference “nothing short of treasonous.”
“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???”
Brennan served as director of the CIA from 2013 through January 2017.
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