WASHINGTON (Circa) — President Donald Trump’s response to questions about election interference and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday was promptly slammed by lawmakers from both parties.
After Putin denied Russian responsibility for efforts to influence the 2016 election, Trump said he saw no reason why Russia would interfere and appeared to question his own intelligence agencies' findings.
Trump also lashed out at special counsel Robert Mueller, who indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers last Friday for stealing and releasing documents from the Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign.
U.S. intelligence agencies have long believed Putin directed the hacking detailed in the indictment with the intent of helping Trump's campaign. Putin acknowledged Monday that he wanted Trump to win, but he rejected the accusation that his government attempted to influence the election.
.@SenJohnMcCain: "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." pic.twitter.com/JWMdvAaSXg— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 16, 2018
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a lengthy statement afterward, declaring it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad," McCain said.
He was far from alone in his criticism.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., issued a strongly-worded statement reaffirming the fact that Russia interfered in the election.
"The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally," Ryan said.
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
"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," tweeted Republican and frequent Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., rejected Trump's suggestion that Mueller's investigation is damaging U.S./Russian relations.
No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by #Russia is not “a disaster for our country.” It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has “kept us apart” is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again https://t.co/M6R3vC8fuK— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) July 16, 2018
"What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again," she said in a tweet.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., suggested questioning the intelligence community's conclusions was a disservice to those who serve the country.
"It’s time to wake up & face reality. #Putin is not our friend; he’s an enemy to our freedom," he added.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she was "deeply troubled" by Trump's defense of Putin.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Russia poses a grave threat to our national security.— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) July 16, 2018
Less surprisingly, Democrats also had harsh words for the president.
Sen,. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the press conference "an embarrassing spectacle."
President Trump’s press conference with Putin was an embarrassing spectacle. Rather than make clear that interference in our elections is unacceptable, Trump instead accepted Putin’s denials and cast doubt on the conclusions of our intelligence community. This is not normal.— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) July 16, 2018
"Rather than make clear that interference in our elections is unacceptable, Trump instead accepted Putin’s denials and cast doubt on the conclusions of our intelligence community. This is not normal," he tweeted.
Saying he was running out of words to describe Trump's capitulation to Putin, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called it "disturbing. Shameful. Jaw-dropping. Disgraceful."
"Hard to remember a time when an American President was so weak on the world stage," tweeted Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
Today Trump propped up a dictator by allowing Putin to tell lie after lie without being challenged. Hard to a remember a time when an American President was so weak on the world stage.— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) July 16, 2018
Despite Trump's complaints that relations between the U.S. and Russia are the worst they have ever been, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. warned the president's "sign of weakness" will make matters even worse.
Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
Referring to the gift Putin gave Trump during the meeting, Graham added, "Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House."