President Donald Trump on Monday downplayed Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and criticized the special counsel investigation. He did while on the same stage as Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference following their summit in Helsinki.
Trump appeared to take the Russian president’s denial of interference at face value while calling the U.S.’s own Justice Department special counsel’s probe as a “disaster.” That U.S. investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, unveiled an indictment Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
As you might expect this was not well received back in Washington where one of the first people to respond to President Trump’s not holding President Putin responsible for the meddling.
Dan Coats is President Trump’s handpicked head of Director of National Intelligence, and he was less than pleased with what was said in Helsinki. Coats said that the intelligence community has been “clear” in its assessment of Russian meddling and described Russian efforts to undermine U.S. democracy as “ongoing” and “pervasive.” Coats also emphasized that the intelligence community’s assessments are “fact-based.”
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said in a statement issued Monday afternoon.
House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in a strongly worded statement, he took aim at President Trump’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s denial that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” Ryan said.
Ryan continued: “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
He was far from the only Republican to felt that President Trump was less than candid with the Russian President.
“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,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “This is shameful.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called it “bizarre” and “flat-out wrong” for Trump to suggest that both the U.S. and Russia are to blame for the deteriorated state of the two countries’ relationship.
Even Trump’s sometimes ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the summit a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Graham quipped that Trump ought to check a soccer ball Putin gave to Trump for listening devices, “and never allow it in the White House.”
Two former members of President Barack Obama’s national intelligence team John Brennan, who served as CIA director between 2013 and January 2017, called the president’s comments “treasonous.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan tweeted.
James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under Obama between 2010 and 2017, described Trump remarks as “truly unbelievable.”
It will be interesting to see how the Republican’s response to President Trump returns to Washington later tonight. Tuesday should be an interesting day in Washington.