Trump’s Defence of Russia Sparks Outrage in US
Standing side by side with Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump refused on Monday to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of criticism at home.
Although he faced pressure from critics, allied countries and even his own staff to take a tough line, Trump spoke not a single disparaging word in public about Moscow on any of the issues that have brought relations between the two powers to the lowest ebb since the Cold War.
Instead, he denounced the “stupidity” of his own country’s policies, especially the decision to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Just three days ago, the U.S. Justice Department announced an indictment of 12 Russian spies for hacking into Democratic Party computer networks.
Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and one of the US president’s most reliable defenders, said Trump’s comments were “the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”
His call came after John McCain, the ailing Arizona Republican senator known for his wariness of Russia and Putin and his battles with Trump, said: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
In an interview later on Monday with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Trump strengthened his defence of Putin, calling his performance at their joint news conference “very, very strong”. He said the two men had a good discussion in private on issues including nuclear proliferation, stabilising Syria and supporting Israel.
Trump added that the main reason the US and Russia had been driven apart was “a phoney witch hunt deal” — a reference to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the US elections.
The day’s dramatic events put the US president at odds with intelligence, diplomatic and law enforcement officials in his own administration as well as with representatives of both parties in Congress who have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence,” said Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
A rebuke was issued by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence. Only three days before, he had compared the cyber threat faced by the US from adversaries like Russia to the build-up to the 9/11 attacks, telling an audience in Washington: “The warning lights are blinking red again.”
In a statement issued after the Helsinki news conference, 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.”
Last Friday, Mueller, the special counsel, indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for hacking and leaking documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Hours after Trump’s news conference ended on Monday, the justice department unveiled a criminal complaint against a Russian woman accused of attempting to build a “back channel” between the Kremlin and Republican Party leaders.
“Russian influence operations are a threat to US interests as they are low-cost, relatively low-risk, and deniable ways to shape foreign perceptions and to influence populations,” said the complaint.
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