Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI and CIA, have maintained that there’s evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But when asked Monday whether he believed those agencies or Russian president Vladimir Putin, who denies involvement, Trump said “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia.
Trump said after meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, that he has “great confidence” in the U.S. intelligence community, “but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Intelligence officials and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were swift to push back on Trump’s comments, coming to the defense of the U.S. intelligence community and criticizing the president’s support of the Russian leader and failure to hold him accountable for election meddling. Many reiterated that Russia is an adversary, not a friend.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence who was appointed by Trump, said in a statement that, “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.”
The president responded on Twitter to his critics, reiterating that he had “great confidence” in the U.S. intelligence community. “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 added.
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
Here’s a look at the initial reactions to Monday’s summit in Helsinki, Finland, from both sides of the aisle.
What Republicans said
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
In a statement, the Senate intel chairman said “Vladimir Putin is not our friend and never has been.”
He added: “The Senate Intelligence Committee has reviewed the 2017 IC assessment and found no reason to doubt its conclusion that President Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 U.S. elections with the goal of undermining faith in our democratic process. Russia has conducted a coordinated cyberattack on state election systems, and hacked critical infrastructure. They have used social media to sow chaos and discord in our society. They have beaten and harassed U.S. diplomats and violated anti-proliferation treaties. Any statement by Vladimir Putin contrary to these facts is a lie and should be recognized as one by the President.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
Hatch on the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki:
“Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Our nation’s top intelligence agencies all agree on that point. From the President on down, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy.." (1/3)
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) July 16, 2018
In a series of tweets, the Utah senator offered a more neutral response to the Trump-Putin summit. He plainly stated that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but stopped short of criticizing Trump’s statements at the joint news conference.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
Paul Ryan’s statement. pic.twitter.com/j5doFcTZ1S
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) July 16, 2018
The Wisconsin congressman doesn’t lob any criticisms toward Trump’s performance at the summit, but doubles down on the framing of Russia as “not our ally.” “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he added in his statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018
In a statement, McCain said the summit was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
He added: “President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Trey Gowdy: "Russia is not our friend. Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election…it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing [Trump's] electoral success." pic.twitter.com/b4sn5qGba4
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) July 16, 2018
The outgoing South Carolina congressman said in a statement that “Russia is not our friend,” adding that “it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing [Trump’s] electoral success.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
I trust the assessments of Dan Coats, Gina Haspel & their teams more than I trust a former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin. U.S. Presidents should meet w/ foreign leaders. But we must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts & human rights abuses around the world.
— Sen. James Lankford (@SenatorLankford) July 16, 2018
“I trust the assessments of Dan Coats, Gina Haspel & their teams more than I trust a former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin,” the Oklahoma senator wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
Just talked to @RepPeteKing. He "strongly disagree(s)" with Trump statement that Russia did not interfere. Is "disappointed, not flabbergasted" by @POTUS remarks. Says having Russia cooperate with Mueller "would be like bringing ISIS into a joint terrorism task force."
— Sheryl Gay Stolberg (@SherylNYT) July 16, 2018
The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg talked with the congressman: “He ‘strongly disagree(s)’ with Trump statement that Russia did not interfere. Is ‘disappointed, not flabbergasted’ by [Trump’s] remarks. Says having Russia cooperate with Mueller ‘would be like bringing ISIS into a joint terrorism task force.’”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
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
In a series of tweets, the South Carolina senator responded to the Trump-Putin summit, saying, in part, there was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling.”
Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio
We need to be clear. Russia is our foe. Putin is actively trying to hurt our country. America needs to speak with one voice AGAINST Russia.
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) July 16, 2018
The Ohio governor tweeted: “Russia is our foe. Putin is actively trying to hurt our country. America needs to speak with one voice AGAINST Russia.”
Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh
Look, I'm no big deal, but today is the final straw for me. I will never support Trump again. If that makes me a NeverTrumper, so be it.
I am a tea party conservative, that will never change. But Trump was a traitor to this country today. That must not be accepted.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 16, 2018
Walsh tweeted that “today is the final straw for me,” adding: “I will never support Trump again. If that makes me a NeverTrumper, so be it. I am a tea party conservative, that will never change. But Trump was a traitor to this country today. That must not be accepted. Speak out.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” the Nebraska senator 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 the moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Foreign policy must be based on reality,not hyperbole or wishful thinking. And the reality is #Russia is an adversary. Because #Putin doesn’t believe in win/win scenarios & thinks only way to make Russia stronger is to make U.S. weaker. Any approach not based on this will fail.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 16, 2018
The Florida senator tweeted that foreign policy “must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking,” adding that the reality is that Russia is an adversary.
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas
I've seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career and I never would have thought that the US President would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands.
— Rep. Will Hurd (@HurdOnTheHill) July 16, 2018
The Texas congressman, who is also a former CIA officer, said on Twitter that “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career and I never would have thought that the US President would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
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
The outgoing Arizona senator said the summit was “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,” he added on Twitter.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
The American people deserve the truth, & to disregard the legitimacy of our intelligence officials is a disservice to the men & women who serve this country. It’s time to wake up & face reality. #Putin is not our friend; he’s an enemy to our freedom.
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) July 16, 2018
The Illinois congressman tweeted that “Putin is not our friend; he’s an enemy to our freedom.”
The former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate who is now running to replace Hatch said Trump’s “decision to side with Putin over American intelligence is disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles.”
My statement on today's summit in Helsinki. pic.twitter.com/WSxFGDKMau
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) July 16, 2018
What Democrats said
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way @realDonaldTrump has supported President Putin.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 16, 2018
The Senate minority leader starts off a series of tweets by saying: “In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way [Trump] has supported President Putin.” The New York senator added that the “only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held a news briefing after President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Video by PBS NewsHour
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.
If Trump was this subservient to Putin with the eyes of the world upon him, what did he say when they were alone for over two hours? https://t.co/EDrIiUlGlq
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 16, 2018
The Virginia congressman cast suspicion on what happened during the one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin. “If Trump was this subservient to Putin with the eyes of the world upon him, what did he say when they were alone for over two hours?”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) July 16, 2018
Responding to Brennan’s tweeted question on why Trump met with Putin one-on-one, Lowey said, “In all fairness to @realDonaldTrump, performance reviews with your boss are often 1 on 1.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
We just witnessed the President of the United States abdicate his national security responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief. When he was given the chance to hold Putin accountable and condemn Russia's interference in our elections, he refused.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) July 16, 2018
In watching Trump refuse to condemn Russia’s meddling, “we just witnessed the President of the United States abdicate his national security responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief,” the New York senator tweeted.
Sen.Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
READ: Joe’s statement after President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki today. pic.twitter.com/sX3qEICs5u
— Senator Joe Donnelly (@SenDonnelly) July 16, 2018
The Indiana senator said the meeting was a “setback for American national security.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) July 16, 2018
The Florida congresswoman said on Twitter that the summit showed that Trump’s “loyalty lies more with #VladimirPutin than the people of the United States.”
The former senator and vice president said that Trump’s comments “do not reflect what Americans think and who we are.”
Trump “had the chance to confront an adversary who has attacked — and continues to attack — our democracy and our allies. He could have stood up for American interests and values. He chose not to. Instead, he embraced our number one adversary, blamed America rather than Russian aggression for the deterioration in our bilateral relations, trashed his own justice department, and put Putin’s word above that of our own intelligence community whose leaders he appointed,” Biden said.
“Attacking the values that make our democracy strong — including strong institutions, the rule of law, a free press and fair elections — does not help us lead abroad. Flattering dictators will not advance American interests. It makes us less safe,” Biden added.
What other officials have said
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
Statement from DNI Dan Coats: pic.twitter.com/Hw4f4w4HqM
— Phil Mattingly (@Phil_Mattingly) July 16, 2018
In a statement, Coats said: “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.”
Former Secretary of State John Kerry
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) July 16, 2018
“The issue isn’t having a meeting with an adversay,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement, adding that he’s had many previous meetings with Russia. “That’s diplomacy.”
But Kerry said that Trump has “surrounded lock, stock and barrel to President Putin’s deceptions about the attacks on America’s democracy.”
“This is insanity,” Kerry continued in his scathing response. “The President said he didn’t ‘see any reason why’ Russia would interfere in our elections. Today’s appalling display is exactly why Russia would have chosen to intervene.”
Former CIA director John Brennan
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
Brennan, a former CIA head under the Obama administration, had a strong reaction to the summit, saying Trump’s “press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”
He goes on to call Trump’s statements “imbecilic” and saying the president “is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
Former FBI Director James Comey
Comey, who Trump fired last May, called Monday’s news conference “the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country.”
“Patriots need to stand up and reject the behavior of this president,” Comey added.
This was the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country. Patriots need to stand up and reject the behavior of this president.
— James Comey (@Comey) July 16, 2018
John Weaver, former top adviser for Jon Huntsman
@JonHuntsman Resign, if you have any honor.
— John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 16, 2018
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman was in attendance for Monday’s summit. Weaver, a former top adviser for Huntsman’s failed 2012 presidential bid, tweeted at the ambassador: “Resign, if you have any honor.”
Former Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel
Former Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel says this sentence sums up Trump/Putin presser: “President Trump failed America today."
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) July 16, 2018
Hagel, who served under the Obama administration, kept it simple: “President Trump failed America today.”
The PBS NewsHour’s Rachel Wellford contributed to this report.