Donald Trump’s first summit with Vladimir Putin left him looking ‘incredibly weak’ in comparison to his Russian counterpart, according to one of the US president’s own appointees.
Trump faced swift and sweeping condemnation following his 45-minute joint press conference with the Russian president in Helsinki on Monday.
The White House has struggled to explain why Trump aligned so closely with Putin, and lawmakers in both major parties appeared shocked and dismayed with his suggestion that he believes Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 elections.
It prompted one of Trump’s own senior political appointees, who works on Russian issues, to speak out saying they had ‘little to no good expectations’ for the summit.
‘Trump looked incredibly weak up there. Putin looks like a champion,’ the official told The Daily Beast.
‘I’d like to say I’m shocked but this is the world in which we live now.’
Trump’s decision to side with Putin left a wake of confusion and outrage in the US.
Lawmakers in both major parties and former intelligence officials appeared shocked, dismayed and uneasy with Trump’s suggestion that he believes Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 elections.
It was a remarkable break with US intelligence officials and the Justice Department. And just as alarming for some, Trump also put the two countries on the same footing when casting blame for their strained relations.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it ‘one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory’.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called it ‘bizarre’, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called it ‘shameful’ and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted that it was a ‘bad day for the US.’
‘This was a very good day for President Putin,’ said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He said Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election makes the U.S. ‘look like a pushover.’
Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said he’s seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in his earlier career as a CIA officer. But, he tweeted: ‘I never would have thought that the US President would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands.’
House Speaker Paul Ryan weighed in to say there’s ‘no question’ that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and ‘no moral equivalence’ between the US and Russia.
‘The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,’ Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement. Russia, he said, ‘remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.’
Much of the Republican rebuke came from lawmakers who have been willing to openly criticize the president, a group that remains a minority in the GOP.
Many top Republicans remained on the sidelines after the Justice Department on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for election-related hacking. But several Republicans who don’t typically buck the president raised concerns, shocked by Monday’s performance.
Democrats pleaded with their GOP colleagues who have majority control of Congress to rein in the president and become a stronger legislative check on the executive branch.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, says never in the history of the country has an American president supported an adversary the way Trump sided with Putin.
He challenged Republicans to move beyond words and confront the president directly by increasing sanctions on Russia and requesting testimony about the summit from Trump administration officials, among other things.
‘We need our Republican colleagues to stand up for the good of this country,’ he said.
Monday’s firestorm erupted when Trump, standing side by side with Putin in Helsinki, refused to publicly condemn – or say he believes – the U.S. assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Instead, he directed his ire at Democrats and U.S. officials, calling special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia a ‘disaster.’
Asked if there was anything he thinks Russia should take responsibility for, Trump said: ‘We’re all to blame.’