There were many strong words said about President Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki on Monday. “Disgraceful” and “disgusting” were among the most common words used, as President Trump accepted Putin’s word that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election despite the unanimous findings of the whole U.S. intelligence community and after the indictment last Friday of 12 Russian intelligence officers by his own Justice Department. With President Putin standing by his side at a press conference, Trump said the Mueller investigation was “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt.” Trump’s actions come on the heels of a week where he criticized U.S. allies such as British Prime Minister Theresa May, and threatened to pull out of the N.A.T.O. alliance.
The President’s siding with Putin over the unanimous findings of the U.S. intelligence community, and Justice Department’s findings quickly drew condemnation. Former C.I.A. director John Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and 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?” Republican Senator John McCain said in a statement, “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. 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.” Of particular note was the comment by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who stated, “We can no longer completely rely on the White House.”
The day after the Helsinki summit the White House was in damage control. Trump stated in front of a White House press gathering “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.” The President then dithered from his typewritten notes and added despite the facts given by the intelligence community and justice department to the contrary “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
President Trump’s performance in Helsinki also gave strong concern over what was said during a two hour meeting Trump had with Putin without any note takers present. As of yet, others in the White House have not been briefed on what was discussed during the meeting. While presidents in the past have met with world leaders without any note takers present, even Russian leaders, the cloud of the Mueller probe cries for transparency in what was discussed.