Shock as Trump backs Putin over US election meddling

President says past US policy ‘foolish’ but his summit remarks labelled ‘treasonous’

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their press conference.
Photo: Getty
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their press conference.
Photo: Getty

US President Donald Trump, facing a barrage of criticism for his comments during a news conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted in a post on Twitter yesterday that he has “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.”

US lawmakers roundly condemned Mr Trump for his comments at the conference with Mr Putin – which followed a meeting between the two behind closed doors for two-plus hours – where he cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia meddled with the 2016 US presidential election.

“As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people’,” Trump said on Twitter. “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!”

Standing side-by-side with Mr Putin, Mr Trump yesterday refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the US 2016 election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of criticism at home.

On a day when he faced pressure from critics, allied countries and even his own staff to take a tough line, Trump spoke not a single disparaging word in public about Moscow on any of the issues that have brought relations between the two powers to the lowest ebb since the Cold War.

Instead, he denounced the “stupidity” of his own country’s policy, especially the decision to investigate election interference.

Ex-CIA chief John BrennanEx-CIA chief John Brennan

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan

Mr Trump’s performance has created a political storm in the US, where the White House has struggled for months to dispel a suggestion that the president was unwilling to stand up to Mr Putin. His performance was denounced as “treasonous” by a former CIA chief, while senator John McCain said the summit was “a tragic mistake.”

The war hero and former Republican presidential nominee said Trump “failed to defend all that makes us who we are – a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”

Former CIA chief John Brennan suggested Trump should be removed from office: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanours.’ 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???”

Mr Trump held his meeting with Mr Putin just days after a special prosecutor in the US indicted 12 Russian agents for stealing Democratic Party documents to help him win the vote.

Asked if he believed US intelligence agencies, which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said he was not convinced.

“I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia,” Trump said. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”

Even before the allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, tensions were high over Moscow’s concerns about Nato expansion, Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its military backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in 2015.

However, before the summit began, Mr Trump blamed his own country for the deterioration in relations.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he said on Twitter. The Russian foreign ministry tweeted back: “We agree.”

At the news conference, Mr Trump was invited by reporters to offer any criticism of Russia but he repeatedly declined.

Mr Trump’s warm words for Russia were a marked contrast from the past week when he repeatedly rebuked traditional US allies at a summit of Nato and during a visit to Britain.

Asked if Mr Putin was an adversary, he said: “Actually I called him a competitor and a good competitor he is and I think the word competitor is a compliment.” Mr Putin spoke of the importance of the two countries working together and praised Mr Trump, at one point interrupting the news conference to give him a soccer ball.

Asked whether he had wanted Mr Trump to win the 2016 election and had instructed officials to help him, Mr Putin said “Yes I did”, although he denied any interference, saying the allegations were “complete nonsense”.

Irish Independent

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