Trump embraces longtime US foe Putin, doubting own intel


Associated Press

HELSINKI

In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump on Monday openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ firm finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Moscow’s hands were clean.

The reaction back home was immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans as well as usual Trump critics. “Shameful,” “disgraceful,” “weak,” were a few of the comments. Makes the U.S. “look like a pushover,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor – but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was a stark illustration of Trump’s willingness to upend decades of U.S. foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns. A wary and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party’s world view. But Trump made clear he feels that any firm acknowledgement of Russia’s involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.

Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.

His skepticism drew a quick formal statement – almost a rebuttal – from Trump’s director of national Intelligence, Dan Coats.

“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,” Coats said.

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