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Trump says Putin summit was 'even better' than Nato meetings

President flew back to Washington to face storm of criticism over meeting with Russian leader 

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Tuesday 17 July 2018 15:43 BST
Trump dodges question on Russian meddling in US election in 2016

Donald Trump has defended his controversial summit with Vladimir Putin, saying the meeting was “even better” than his talks with Nato allies.

A day after Mr Trump received a barrage of bipartisan criticism for what many said was a failure to properly challenge Mr Putin over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and his undermining of the credibility of his own intelligence officials, the president began pushing back, saying he was putting the “pursuit of peace” before politics.

Before leaving Finland, he said that while he had great confidence in the US intelligence community, he was seeking not to "exclusively focus on the past" in order to build .

US late night hosts comment on Donald Trump meeting with Vladimir Putin

On Tuesday morning, hours before he was due to meet Republican senators at the White House where he was likely to pressed on his meeting with Mr Putin, the president tweeted once again.

“While I had a great meeting with Nato, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia,” he said.

“Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy.”

Mr Trump’s meeting in Helsinki, or at least the press conference he delivered afterwards, received almost unanimous condemnation from politicians from both parties and swathes of the American media, even including broadcasters from Fox News. It followed a meeting the week before with Nato leaders in Brussels at which criticised the US's traditional allies for failing to spend more on defence.

Republican House Speaker said there was “no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia”, while Senator John McCain said Mr Trump’s comments represented “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.

Mr Trump’s former communications director Anthony Scaramucci, a man who was fired after 10 days but who remains close to the president, told CNN: “He’s got to speak out about it, and he’s got to reverse course immediately.

“The optics of this situation are a disaster….If he doesn’t reverse course on this, he will eventually lose people who want to support him.”

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was among the handful of Republicans, along with Vice President Mike Pence, to defend the president.

As some on Capitol Hill discussed passing a resolution in defence of the US intelligence community and its broad agreement that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Mr Trump, Mr Ryan, who is not seeking reelection in November, doubled down on his criticism.

He said he was willing to consider new sanctions against Moscow if members of congress felt they were necessary. He said Russia “would not get away with it again”.

“Russia is a menacing government that does not share our interests and it does not share our values,” he said.

During the 2016 White House campaign, Mr Trump, who has links to several Russian businessmen and who visited the Moscow Miss Universe pageant in 2013, repeatedly called for a better relationship with Moscow.

In August 2016, while campaigning in Pennsylvania, he said at a rally: “If we could get Russia to help us get rid of Isis – if we could actually be friendly with Russia – wouldn’t that be a good thing?”

Mr Trump, by then the Republican presidential nominee, added: “If we could get along with Russia, wouldn’t that be a good thing, instead of a bad thing?”

As such, his world view has been at distinct odds with hawks in both parties, primarily people such as Mr McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, House Speaker Paul Ryan and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, whom he beat in the race to the White House.

Yet critics of Mr Trump’s say even given that position, his performance in Finland did nothing to nail down any deliverable results. Rather, he broke what has long been considered a huge political taboo, of criticising one's own agencies while overseas.

“You just do not see leaders, whether it’s the CEOs of companies, or the heads of countries, attacking their own side while on foreign soil, and with the leader of a hostile country standing there,” Jeanne Zaino, Professor of Political Science at Iona College in New York, told The Independent.

Yet Ms Zaino said that for all the Republican anger at Mr Trump, there was little they could do. While there has been some talk of censuring the president or bring a resolution in defence of the intelligence agencies, she said the chief concern was about the upcoming midterm elections, and in particular the Republican primaries which frequently attract non-mainstream candidates who may receive the backing of Mr Trump’s core of supporters.

She said: “They do not want to alienate Republican voters.”

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