Democrats and some Republicans on Monday criticized President Donald Trump’s performance at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a summit in Helsinki, Finland. Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump's behavior "treasonous."
Brennan tweeted: "Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"
Many critics took issue with Trump's decision not to publicly hold Russia accountable for what U.S. investigators have called interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that Trump was putting himself before the country.
“In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin,” Schumer said in the statement. “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Trump's remarks disgraceful.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," McCain said in a statement. "The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement that “the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” Ryan said. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."
After a private conversation with Putin that lasted about two hours, Trump said the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the election was a “disaster” for the U.S. and its relationship with Russia.
During the joint news conference, Trump also said he holds both Russia and the U.S. responsible for a decline in relations between both countries.
Trump dismissed the idea that there was collusion between his administration and Russian officials, explaining that he didn’t know Putin before the election and that there wasn’t anybody to collude with.
Trump also said he has been told that Russia interfered in the election but that Putin denied the allegations and “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia].”
Putin said he would look into the indicted Russian intelligence officers mentioned in the special counsel’s probe.
The news conference came three days after 12 Russian officials were accused of hacking the Democratic National Convention and Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an indictment. Democrats had called for Trump to cancel Monday’s meeting with Putin after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the findings detailed in the indictment.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Trump’s comments shameful in a tweet.
“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,” Flake said in the tweet.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Twitter that it was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Trump’s comments embarrassing in a statement.
“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the President, personally, financially or politically,” Pelosi said. “This is a sad day for America, and for all Western democracies that Putin continues to target.”
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said McConnell's positions on Russia haven't changed.
“As the Leader has said many times, Russia is not our friend, and he agrees with the findings of the intelligence community regarding Russia’s efforts to interfere in our elections," the spokesman said in a statement.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement the president's actions left him "dismayed".
“U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed Russia’s actions, and the evidence is plentiful," Goodlatte said. "Today’s summit was an opportunity to forcefully address this growing threat directly with President Putin. I am dismayed that we did not see that.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Peters, D.-Calif., said Trump's "disgraceful remarks in Helsinki betray our American democracy in the face of its most dangerous adversary."
"We must stand up to the President’s refusal to defend our country," he said. "Today, I call on both Democratic and Republican leadership in the House and Senate to introduce a formal joint resolution censuring the President for his egregious comments."
Trump and Putin met during Trump’s week-long tour that took him through four European nations. Before departing the U.S., Trump had said his meeting with Putin might be the “easiest” of all of his meetings on the trip.
—Scott Gelman contributed to this story