President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had a great summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, even as he faced scathing criticism for accepting Putin’s denial of Russian election meddling and failing to defend U.S. intelligence conclusions that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential contest.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia,” Trump said on Twitter. “Sadly, it is not being reported that way–the Fake News is going Crazy!”
Trump also said Tuesday that he accepts the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there,” Trump told reporters in remarks from the White House.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, responded to Trump’s rosy assessment.
“Let’s be very clear: Russia meddled in our election,” Ryan said. “We know they interfered with our elections, and we have passed sanctions on Russia to hold them accountable.”
When asked about election meddling during a joint news conference with Putin on Monday, Trump said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” adding that “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
A day later, lawmakers continued to condemn Trump’s performance.
“It’s almost as if Donald Trump is embracing Putin’s knees. I’m ashamed of it. Every American should be,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “Can you imagine if President Kennedy believed Khrushchev when he said there were no missiles in Cuba?”
Some Republicans have come to Trump’s defense. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said “The President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations — what’s he supposed to think?
“I trust our intelligence community. I trust their assessment that there was Russian meddling in the election,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said. “But I also trust the [Russia] investigation so far, which has shown absolutely no collusion with the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence activity leading up to the  election.”
Democrats are demanding action to rein in Trump and counter Russia, from congressional hearings on the Helsinki summit to ramped up sanctions against Russia to legislation protecting the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller.
“Words are not enough. Our response to the debasement of American interests before a foreign adversary demands a response not just in word but in deed,” Schumer said. “Our Republican colleagues cannot just go ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk.’ They must act.”
“I think there’s a lot we can do together,” Cornyn responded. “But as long as this becomes a political, partisan, stop-Trump-at-all-costs effort, I don’t think we are going to make much progress.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, told reporters he expects Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify on Russia as early as next week.
Some Trump critics called on his key national security aides to quit in the face of the president saying that he had “confidence” in both Putin and the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, asked in a Twitter comment, “If you’re on the Trump national security team, and you’ve been out there saying how strong Trump is on Russia and how serious our commitment is to NATO, how do you not resign after the last four days?”
There has been no indication so far that any of Trump’s key aides planned to quit.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on Monday criticized President Donald Trump following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, labeling Trump’s press conference with Putin as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin,” McCain said in a statement.
“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,” added the veteran senator, who added that watching Trump’s press conference with Putin was especially “painful” after Trump criticized longtime NATO ally Germany as “totally controlled by Russia.”
“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American presidency,” said McCain.
McCain, a longtime critic of Trump, on Friday suggested that Trump should cancel his meeting with Putin if he is not prepared to hold Putin “accountable” for aggression toward the U.S.
While McCain backed Trump in the presidential election in 2016, he previously said he has serious concerns about Trump, backing former Republican nominee Mitt Romney in his criticism.
In a memoir released in May, McCain accuses the President of failing to uphold U.S. values by showering praise on international “tyrants,” discrediting the media, ignoring human rights and demeaning refugees.
President Trump delivered a statement Tuesday on his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During his statement, Trump said that he and Putin were in agreement on the need to uphold Israel’s security.
“We discussed Israel and the security of Israel, and President Putin is very much involved now with us in a discussion now with Bibi Netanyahu on working something out surrounding Syria, specifically with regards to the security and long-term security and Israel,” Trump said.
Trump said that the two leaders also discussed the Iranian and North Korean threats.
Putin said following their meeting Monday that Trump “paid particular attention” to Israel’s security needs during their discussions on Syria.
“As far as Syria is concerned the task of establishing peace and reconciliation in this country could be the first showcase example of successful joint work,” Putin said, adding that he and Trump agreed that Israel’s border with Syria should be secured according to the terms of the 1974 UN ceasefire agreement.
Europeans have reacted with a mixture of alarm and relief to Monday’s summit between Trump and Putin.
They are relieved the U.S. leader did not give away any aces but they remain queasy about Trump’s apparent eagerness to get on with the Russian leader while displaying to them a combativeness normally reserved for opponents rather than allies.
Their mood was downcast even before the summit kicked-off, disheartened by President Trump denouncing the European Union as a greater “foe” than Russia and China in a media interview just hours before the summit in Finland’s capital Helsinki.
Beforehand, there was alarm in Europe on whether the U.S. President would be lured by the more experienced and disciplined summiteer Putin into giving ground on the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula or Moscow’s fomenting of rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. But the Russian president apparently secured no concessions on Crimea, no public promise to re-admit Russia into the G7, and no reversal on Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
And Trump maintained opposition to the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, which will be increasing Russian energy exports to Germany.
But what Trump described as a “deeply productive dialogue” and a first step in improving strained relations between the U.S. and Russia has prompted accusations in Europe that, in his eagerness to be an international deal-maker, he overlooks Kremlin aggression — including alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 White House race.
The summit dominated the front pages of Europe’s newspapers Tuesday with Spain’s ABC running a full-page picture of the leaders of the world’s biggest nuclear-armed nations shaking hands, under the tart headline: “Trump and Putin: Such friends.” The paper said the two leaders had buried the Cold War and the issue of Russian interference in America’s election — at least “for now.”
Another Spanish newspaper, El País, said Trump was befriending Putin while bashing the EU. And Belgium’s Le Soir argued Trump had “aligned himself” with Putin over his own authorities on the subject of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Some newspapers were less indignant. Belgium’s De Morgen wrote that the leaders were “working on their relationship” in a story headlined: “On to a better future.”
But Britain’s Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that has generally been sympathetic to Trump, especially over his spats with Europe, said the U.S. leader’s aim to establish peace was laudable. At the same time, it warned the summit was a big win for the Kremlin.
“By affording him [Putin] the trappings of an equal partner Mr. Trump has given President Putin what he craved most: respect… The relationship has been reset without the Russians having to change anything,” the paper said in an editorial.
The reaction of European leaders and officials to Trump has been subdued. Few have gone public with their thoughts, preferring to stay out of the furious fight between the U.S. president and his critics in the U.S. over the summit. But privately there is indignation at Trump’s blaming the West as much as Russia for the strained relations, with German officials saying the summit advances their fears of a widening rift between Europe and Trump-led America.
Privately, they worry that Trump’s determination to forge a personal bond with Putin is adding to a shift in the dynamics of America’s relationship with Europe. “I am relieved there were no concessions,” said a senior British diplomat. “But it is unnerving to see the U.S. President being friendlier with Putin than with America’s traditional allies,” he said.
Speaking to Britain’s Sky News, Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the U.N., said he regarded Trump’s effort to forge better relations with Putin a “good thing.” But faulted the U.S. leader, saying, “he is doing it naively and is taking too much from President Putin at face value.”
Coming on the back of a pre-summit interview during which Trump described the EU as a “foe,” European officials and analysts are still scrambling to understand what he meant and whether the U.S. and Europe are set on a path of separation.
Some officials console themselves by saying Trump seems to use “foe” and “competitor” as interchangeable. And they point to the formal paperwork of diplomacy as more reassuring, like the 23-page communique agreed at last week’s NATO summit, which reaffirmed the alliance’s principle of collective defense and rebuked Russia.
“We are confronted with that dilemma that we have often had with the Trump administration,” said Mark Leonard of the European Council for Foreign Relations.
“The president is a raging bull, he makes all sorts of statements, yet the policy beneath him doesn’t look that dramatically different than traditional American policy. And so people are left trying to figure out who they should believe — the policy or the President of the United States.”
In some ways, the Europeans have no alternative but to hold fast to the idea that the transatlantic relationship remains solid — their security assumptions are based on it and they are not ready to go it alone, say analysts.
Cutting through Trump’s transactional approach, Defense Secretary James Mattis reaffirmed the “unbreakable trans-Atlantic bond,” underscoring after NATO’s tumultuous summit Washington’s enduring commitment to peace and prosperity on the European continent at a meeting of southern European security ministers in Zagreb, Croatia.
Edited by: Fern Sidman