Putin and Trump met face-to-face Monday in Helsinki, Finland, in a one-on-one meeting with only their translators present.
The meeting came as the U.S. Justice Department indicted multiple Russian intelligence officers in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
At a press conference afterwards, Trump and Putin both addressed the election interference issue, with Trump siding with Putin over his own intelligence officials.
“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said, later adding he doesn’t see “any reason why” Russia would interfere.
Trump also called Mueller’s investigation into the matter a “disaster for our country.”
Security officials react
After the press conference, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats issued a statement, saying he stood by intelligence reports that Russians meddled in the election.
“The role of the intelligence community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policy makers,” Coats wrote.
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“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.”
John Brennan, the former CIA chief from 2013 to January 2017, called the spectacle “nothing short of treasonous.”
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“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’” he wrote.
“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?”
While Brennan was part of the Obama administration, even Republicans weren’t impressed by the meeting.
Former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel disagreed with Brennan’s assessment, but told CNN that Trump had “failed America today.”
“On the world’s stage, in front of the entire globe, the President of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin. So it was amazing and very, very disturbing,” former director of national intelligence James Clapper, told CNN.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers rallied against Trump for his comments.
After criticism started coming in, Trump tweeted that he did agree with U.S. intelligence, but wanted to move forward instead of focusing on the past.
“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!” he wrote.
What the experts are saying
Experts in Russian relations say that it is unusual for a president to not side with CIA intelligence, but that not much will change in U.S.-Russian relations because of this meeting.
“In terms of optics, Trump came off poorly — hence the condemnations even from within his party,” Seva Gunitsky, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, told Global News.
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“But the hyperbolic takes about this being a horrible moment for US foreign policy are overblown.”
Sonja Luehrmann, associate professor of anthropology at Simon Fraser University, said the meeting didn’t have any concrete results, but that she was concerned that “neither the U.S.’s NATO allies nor Trump’s own State Department staff were involved in any meaningful way.”
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“Given that the US has three separate and uncoordinated Russia policies — by Congress, by the administration, and by Trump himself — it’s hard to see any lasting change emerging from today’s meeting. So far, there’s no evidence of it,” Gunitsky said.