After several hours of talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Finland, President Donald Trump on Monday called the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections a ‘disaster,’ as he seemingly rejected the findings of his own intelligence organizations, accepting the word of Putin that Russia did not meddle in the last campaign for President, and making the case that the investigation had undermined relations between the two countries.
“President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a joint news conference. “I will say this – I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Mr. Trump added, as the President wrapped up the news conference by attacking FBI official Peter Strzok, and declaring the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller “a giant witch hunt.”
“It’s ridiculous – it’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe,” the President said. “There was no collusion with the campaign.”
Asked directly about Russian interference, the President instead talked about the missing emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the computer server that Russians allegedly hacked at the Democratic National Committee, and ex-House IT aide Imran Awan.
Ending the news conference, President Trump brought up the testimony last Thursday before Congress of FBI official Peter Strzok, “it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country, and you would say, that was a total witch hunt.”
Questioned by American reporters on the same subject of Russian interference in the elections, Putin acknowledged that he wanted President Trump to win in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, “because he talked about the U.S.-Russian relationship back to normal,” as the Russian leader said there was no evidence of Russian wrongdoing.
“Could you name a single fact that would definitively prove the collusion?” Putin said in response to one question.
Back on Capitol Hill, some Republicans swiftly rejected the President’s statements, making the case that Russia did meddle and interfere in 2016, and that such actions cannot be ignored.
“I support the Mueller investigation in getting to the apolitical truth,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). “Russia has a track record of meddling in elections.”
“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as a number of Republicans raised red flags about the President’s comments on the Russia probe.
“Russia is not our friend,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), as he gave his public support to former Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, who is now the Director of National Intelligence.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
“This is shameful,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Democrats – many of whom had called for the President to cancel the summit with Putin after last Friday’s indictments of a dozen Russian intelligence officers for hacking into Democratic Party computers systems – were left shaking their heads.
“The President’s refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
“I never expected to see the President of the United States trust the word of a hostile foreign power over our own intelligence community,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).
“Today’s so-called summit was a gift to Putin,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).