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Trump’s siding with Russia draws condemnation and concern from both parties

In a stunning moment in Helsinki, the president of the United States again dismissed American intelligence findings that Vladimir Putin ordered Russian meddling in the 2016 election, while Putin acknowledged he wanted President Trump to win. Fallout from the news conference came swiftly, as Washington reacted to the historic summit. Yamiche Alcindor and Ryan Chilcote join Judy Woodruff.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is headed home tonight, trailing clouds of controversy over his summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

    They covered a range of issues in Helsinki, Finland today, but looming over all, Russia’s role in the election that made Mr. Trump president.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor is in Helsinki.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    With that, the president of the United States again dismissed American intelligence findings that Vladimir Putin ordered Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Instead, Mr. Trump suggested he takes Putin at his word.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Mr. Trump also bristled at any suggestion that Russian actions contributed to his victory.

  • President Donald Trump:

    There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with.

    People are being brought out to the fore, so far that I know virtually none of it related to the campaign. And they’re going to have to try really hard to find somebody that did relate to the campaign. That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Even as Putin denied any interference, he also acknowledged he wanted Mr. Trump to win in 2016.

  • Vladimir Putin (through translator):

    Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because he talked about bring the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal. Isn’t it natural to be sympathetic towards a person who is willing to restore the relationship with our country, who wants to work with us?

  • President Donald Trump:

    But our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The summit came three days after special counsel Robert Mueller’s office indicted 12 Russian officials for election cyber-attacks. But the president linked Mueller’s probe to the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Putin was questioned about whether he would extradite the 12 military intelligence agents to face American justice.

  • Vladimir Putin (through translator):

    As to who is to be believed and to who’s not to be believed, you can trust no one. We have to be guided by facts and not by rumors. I don’t know the full extent of the situation, but President Trump mentioned this issue, and I will look into it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Putin said that would involve questioning suspects tied to the hacking. Then the Russian president said he’d discussed with President Trump a unique offer.

  • Vladimir Putin (through translator):

    We can meet you halfway. We can make another step. We can actually permit official representatives of the United States, including the members of this very commission headed by Mr. Mueller, we can let them into the country, and they will be present at this questioning.

  • President Donald Trump:

    What he did is an incredible offer.

    He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. OK?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president blamed both the United States and Russia for the decline in relations that spiraled after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, its 2015 entry intro Syria’s war, and the 2016 election interference.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.

    As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.

  • Vladimir Putin (through translator):

    After all, I was an intelligence officer myself, and I do know how dossiers are made up.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That statement led naturally to the ongoing speculation that Moscow might have blackmail information on Mr. Trump.

  • Question:

    Does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?

  • Vladimir Putin (through translator):

    I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. Well, distinguished colleague, let me tell you this, when President Trump was at Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow.

    I treat President Trump with utmost respect. It’s difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this. Well, please, just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Earlier, the leaders strode into the Finnish president’s palace for two meetings, with no set agenda and, in Mr. Trump’s words, low expectations. The first meeting was the just two men with their interpreters.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Well, first of all, Mr. President, I would like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Despite no real plan for the meeting, Mr. Trump said there was much to talk about.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Discussions on everything from trade, to military, to missiles, to nuclear, to China. We will be talking a little about China, our mutual friend President Xi. I think we have great opportunities together as two countries.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The one-on-one meeting was scheduled for 90 minutes, but went more than two hours, and led to a lunch with senior aides.

    The meetings also came at the end of an eventful week-long trip that saw President Trump berating allies at NATO.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Many countries are not paying what they should.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Causing British Prime Minister Theresa May some political heart palpitations.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I didn’t criticize the prime minister. I have a lot of respect for the prime minister.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And yesterday calling the European Union a foe of America. After all that, today was what Mr. Trump said could be the easy part. He said he was trying to improve relations between historic adversaries.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will return to Yamiche shortly, but, first, fallout from the president’s press conference came swiftly today, as Washington reacted to the historic meeting.

    Before the press conference with the Russian president in Finland had even ended, politicians in both parties were condemning President Trump’s words. Some were predictably harsh, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    What the president did is side with our number one enemy who is attacking the U.S. daily in a variety of ways ,and belittling, kneecapping our allies, and is just appalling and demands some kind of explanation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The former CIA director under President Obama, John Brennan, tweeted the president’s remarks were — quote — “nothing short of treasonous.”

    But there were unusually strong words from President Trump’s own party, too.

  • Tennessee Senator Bob Corker:

  • Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.:

    I just felt like the president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover. And I was disappointed in that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In a statement, Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain called it disgraceful. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

    House Speaker Paul Ryan was less critical, but said that Mr. Trump, “Must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”

    Other Republicans instead backed up Mr. Trump’s concerns about bias in the intelligence community.

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.:

    I think for the president to cast doubt is appropriate.

  • Question:

    To cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment?

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.:

    Cast doubt on the validity of any number of these things. You know, that’s fair.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, also responded, insisting, “We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

    The concerns from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue will be waiting for the president when he returns to Washington late tonight.

    We now turn to our two reporters who were there in Helsinki, White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and special correspondent Ryan Chilcote.

    Hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, you were in the room during this news conference. Do you understand what it was that led the president to say he could not be sure of what his own intelligence community has found about the 2016 election?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump equated U.S. intelligence communities who have said over and over again that Russia meddled in U.S. elections, meddled in U.S. elections, with the denial of President Putin, who says that Russia had nothing to do with this.

    This is a stunning moment, because President Trump was putting on both — really on both playing fields — on equal playing fields Russia saying that they didn’t do anything and U.S. intelligence agencies, the FBI, CIA, NSA, all saying that Russia had something to do with meddling in our elections.

    After the press conference, President Trump told CBS News that he basically believed what he said, that he doesn’t think that Russia meddled in our elections. He disagrees with U.S. intelligence chiefs who say that Russia could meddle in future elections.

    And what is really important is that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, came out with a statement after the press conference saying that he believes that Russia meddled in the elections.

    CNN is reporting that that statement wasn’t cleared by the White House. So you have some back and forth there within the U.S. administration. Another thing that is important is that President Trump was tweeting soon after.

    And just a couple of minutes ago, he was talking about the fact that he really supports U.S. intelligence agencies, but that he again has this equation with Russia, who’s denying that they had anything to do with this election interference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Ryan, you have been covering Vladimir Putin in these kind of settings for the last couple of decades. What struck you about him at today’s encounter?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Look, I think his body language and the sequence of events says it all.

    President Putin showed up late. He made President Trump late. And when the two did meet, he walked into the room first. He spoke first. And then — so we’re in Finland, but it looked an awful lot like President Putin was the host.

    In terms of the body language, President Trump appeared eager. He kind of leaned in, in the direction of President Putin. President Putin sat back in his seat. He looked underwhelmed, unconvinced as they began speaking.

    But then things changed, as they went away for their bilateral talks and the delegation meeting, when they came back for the press conference, President Putin, you know, seemed to have gone through an evolution. He appeared energized.

    And I think, you know, President Trump, at least optically speaking, it looked like President Putin had been won over. And the Russians are clearly quite pleased with this summit. In fact, the Russian foreign minister just tweeted that the summit was fabulous, in fact, better than super.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, while all this is going on, of course, the probe, the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, goes on.

    They’re aggressively looking at what happened in the 2016 election. They have been returning indictments. They have been — people have been pleading guilty. But we heard the president say today that the probe is hurting U.S.-Russia relations.

    So where does all this go from here?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump has been saying over and over again that the Mueller probe is a witch-hunt.

    But, today, he did something completely different, which is that he was on a world stage and he took that opportunity to then attack Robert Mueller while standing next to the very man that a lot of Russian intelligence — that U.S. intelligence agencies say ordered the hacking of U.S. elections and the hacking of political figures in the U.S.

    So, it was not just that he was angry at the Mueller probe, but he was making these statements while standing next to Vladimir Putin soon after Rudy Giuliani, who is the president’s personal lawyer, talked to The New York Daily News, and said that President Trump shouldn’t be calling Putin a liar.

    He said that he also believes the Russian president when he says that he didn’t meddle in the U.S. elections. So, I do think that’s really important.

    I spoke with Douglas Lute, who is the former ambassador to NATO. He said that he now expects NATO allies to starting working — doing on — working on work-arounds against the U.S. and trying to figure out what to do, because he doesn’t think that those countries are going to trust the U.S.

    He also told me, though, that there is a positive to this meeting. He said that NATO allies can possibly rest assured President Trump didn’t change U.S. commitments to NATO at this time. He said that there were no troop level changes. That the U.S. is still going to have the same military exercises with NATO.

    So it is something — he told me there was something positive that came out of this meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, just quickly, Ryan, there were some important policy issues that came up during the meeting.

    What about that?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    There were. And, in fact, there were a lot of things that weren’t said. And, in a way, I think that they were more important.

    There was no condemnation of the annexation of Crimea, no condemnation from President Trump about that. In fact, he didn’t say anything about Crimea at all, not mention whatsoever of sanctions.

    There was some talk about Syria, but, again, even in the context of Syria, it was more about how to accommodate Israel’s interests in Syria, both what Russia and the United States could do in that sense. And there was an awful lot, I think — and this is very helpful, perhaps, for President Putin — there was an awful lot of praise from President Trump in the direction of President Putin.

    And, if you think about it, President Trump, you know — President Putin has been the leader of a country that has really been in the cold for four years now. And it is absolutely perfect for him that he can, this evening on state media, air praise from the countries — the country that they like to refer as their main adversary.

    In Russia, that’s worth its weight in gold.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ryan Chilcote, Yamiche Alcindor reporting for us from Helsinki, thank you both.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thank you.

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