- Two leaders meet in Helsinki in high-stakes summit
- Mr Putin insists Russia didn’t hack US election
- Mr Trump backs Russian President and rails against US security agencies
- Critics accuse US President of ‘nothing short of treason’
- Earlier, he described two-hour, one-to-one meeting as a ‘good start’
- The summit has been met by thousands of protesters
- Before the meeting, Mr Trump described the EU as one of America’s foes
Donald Trump has faced a significant backlash in the US after he refused to side with his own security services against Vladimir Putin and rejected in the strongest terms claims Moscow hacked the US election in 2016.
During a jaw-dropping press conference in Finland, the two leaders put on a united front as they dismissed out of hand the idea that Moscow had played any role in getting Mr Trump elected nearly two years ago.
And Mr Trump stated that although the CIA had told him Russia had interfered in the democratic process, he didn’t believe them.
Putin, he said, had convinced him otherwise. ‘He just said it’s not Russia’, Mr Trump declared. ‘I don’t see any reason why it would be.’
He added that, though US-Russian relations had never been worse up until now, that all changed “as of about four hours ago”.
Putin, for his part, also admitted that he had wanted Mr Trump to win the election.
The reaction among Trump’s critics was immediate and incredulous, with the former CIA director John Brennan branding Mr Trump’s performance ‘nothing short of treasonous’.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said there is “no question” that Russia interfered in the presidential election, adding: ‘The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”‘.
Later on Monday, Mr Trump appeared to respond to the criticism, tweeting he had ‘great confidence in MY intelligence people’.
As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
The most controversial talking point was the so-called (as Mr Putin chose to call it) Russian interference of the US election.
Asked if he trusted U.S. intelligence agencies which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Mr Trump said he had been told by his CIA chief that it was Russia but he saw no reason to believe it, and that Mr Putin had been “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
The US President went on to rail against the FBI, Democrats and Hillary Clinton and the subsequent Mueller inquiry that is dominating US politics. He signed off by branding the probe a ‘witch-hunt’.
“There has been no collusion at all, everyone knows it,” he said. “They are going to have to try very hard to find someone who is closely related to the campaign.
“I beat Hillary Clinton clearly, and won that race, and it’s a shame there’s been a cloud over it.”
Mr Trump also hinted that Moscow had an ‘interesting idea’ relating to the claims.
Mr Putin, who did far less of the talking, stressed: “I had to repeat what I’ve said before, that the Russian state has never interfered and has no intention to interfere.”
He added that he and Mr Trump now trust each other completely over the issue and added: ‘I wanted Mr Trump to win the election’, stating it was because Mr Trump had always made clear he wanted to normalise relations.
Mr Putin ended his speech by saying the two now understood each other much better, while Mr Trump added that ‘this is the only the beginning’.
Earlier this month, a Senate Intelligence Committee report said it supported three U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Reaction among Trump’s critics has been one of disbelief.
John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, branded the comments ‘treasonous and imbecilic’ adding that Mr Trump was ‘wholly in the pocked of Putin’.
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???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Senior Republicans also lashed out at Mr Trump. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he had created far more problems than he had solved.
Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.
This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves. (1/3)
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
John McCain said in a statement: ‘The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.
‘But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
And the US Senator for Arizona Jeff Flake described Trump’s performance as ‘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.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 16, 2018
Here is a brief outline of the areas the pair covered.
High-level working group: Putin said Trump has proposed a high-level working group of businessmen from both countries to improve commercial ties.
Syria: Trump said he and Putin spoke about pursuing humanitarian relief for Syria. Mr Putin added that Syria could be the showcase example of Washington and Moscow working proactively on an issue to bring peace to the region.
Kompromat: On the supposed, ‘compromising dossier’ alleging disgusting behaviour by Mr Trump in a hotel in Moscow a number of years ago, Putin and Trump both scoffed at the idea of its existence. “Get this idea out of your head,” Putin said.
North Korea: Trump said he hoped to involve Putin in talks with North Korea.
Crimea: Putin says Trump does not agree that the annexation was legal, but that Russia continues to believe their referendum was lawful.
Military cooperation: The US and Russian armies have always “gotten along better than our political leaders” Trump says.
World Cup: Trump said Russia had hosted a successful World Cup, and congratulated the Russian team on their performance.
‘We want to get along’
Earlier, the US President said that ‘the world wants him to get along’ with his Russia counterpart.
The visit consisted of a one-on-one meeting and a larger working lunch before concluding with the joint news conference.
And the moment the pair met was a must-watch for body language experts.
As the two sat down and posed for photographers, Mr Trump threw Mr Putin a wink.
— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) July 16, 2018
The two shared an awkward-looking handshake before Mr Trump outlined what they planned to talk about including trade, military, reducing nuclear missiles and China.
There was no mention of the Russian hacking of US elections and, as reporters shouted out questions about it to Mr Trump, Mr Putin appeared to visibly smirk.
As Putin touched down in Finland, political commentators accused him of asserting his dominance by keeping Mr Trump waiting.
The meeting, which was met by protests, has been condemned by members of Congress from both parties after the US indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.
Former US defense secretary Chuck Hagel criticised the summit on Monday, asking: “What is the point?”
“Let’s understand something: the interests of any nation are far bigger than any one leader.
“The interests of America are not the interests that president Trump defines them to be, or he decides that they are the priority or specific interest, or thinks they are or says they are.”
But the US president has been undeterred.
Mr Trump, who has been trying to lower expectations about what the meeting will achieve, told reporters during a breakfast with Finland’s president that he thought the summit would go “fine”.
Mr Trump continued to undermine the investigation in a series of tweets from Helsinki before the meeting, blaming it for fraying US-Russian relations.
He announced that US relations with Russia have ‘never been worse’.
With no reference to the Cold War era, the controversial POTUS tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said they agreed.
The meeting follows Trump’s first official visit to the UK as a sitting US president.
Throughout the visit, Trump was greeted with mass protests in Scotland, London, Newcastle and other cities as UK residents took to the streets with homemade placards to call for an end to his controversial policies.
While staying in his Scottish resort in Turnberry, Trump said in a CBS interview: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” Trump said, adding that “you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”
He said that Russia is a foe “in certain respects” and that China is a foe “economically … but that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive”.
Trump has been reluctant to criticise Putin over the years and has described him in recent days not as an enemy but as a competitor.
Trump set expectations for the summit low, telling CBS News: “I don’t expect anything. … I go in with very low expectations.”
His national security adviser said they weren’t looking for any “concrete deliverables”.
He also said in the interview, taped Saturday, that he “hadn’t thought” about asking Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted this past week in Washington on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But after being given the idea by his interviewer, Trump said; “Certainly I’ll be asking about it.”
In the CBS News interview, Trump declined to discuss his goals for the summit – “I’ll let you know after the meeting,” he said – but said he believes such sessions are beneficial.
He cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June as a “good thing,” along with meetings he has had with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Nothing bad is going to come out of” the Helsinki meeting, he said, “and maybe some good will come out”.
From aboard Air Force One, Trump complained in tweets that he was not getting enough credit for his meeting with Kim and railed that “Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people” as he headed to sit down with Putin.
Trump complained: “No matter how well I do at the Summit,” he’ll face “criticism that it wasn’t good enough”.
“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted.
Trump also praised Putin for holding the World Cup, which ended Sunday.
Trump and Putin have held talks several times before. Their first meeting came last July when both took part in an international summit and continued for more than two hours, well over the scheduled 30 minutes.
The leaders also met last year during a summit in Vietnam.