WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle harshly criticized President Donald Trump for provocative comments he made during a joint news conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.
“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,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said in a tweet. “This is shameful.”
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a tweet: “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.”
Democratic leaders were just as blunt.
“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the President, personally, financially or politically,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “This is a sad day for America, and for all Western democracies that Putin continues to target.”
“In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.”
“For the President to side with Putin over his own intelligence officials and blame the United States for Russia’s attack on our democracy is a complete disgrace,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a tweet.
“President Trump’s performance today was the most damaging and shameful surrender of American values and interests in modern history,” House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a tweet. “I say again to my Republican colleagues: Wake up.”
The news conference was preceded by a 90-minute one-on-one meeting between the leaders. Both Trump and Putin told reporters they felt in roads were made on discussions related to Syria, fighting ISIS, and arms control.
When asked about the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, Trump suggested agreement with Moscow’s long-held denial.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said.
Trump called Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s collusion probe “ridiculous,” and said it contributed to heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
The U.S. Justice Department indicted welve Russians were indicted last week on charges related to the 2016 email hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and 20 state election boards.
The defendants reside in Russia.
Putin told reporters he would consider extradition in exchange for Russian participation in the Mueller probe.