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January 4, 2017

Donald Trump apparently liked what he heard on Fox News last night. The president-elect referred to Sean Hannity's Tuesday night interview with WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange in a tweet Wednesday morning, praising the doubt Assange cast on whether Russia was the responsible party behind hacks during the election season:

Trump was immediately hit with criticism over the tweet. "I have a lot more faith in our intelligence officers … than I do in people like Julian Assange," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on MSNBC shortly afterward. Former CIA and Pentagon spokesman George Little tweeted his own two cents:

Former CIA operations officer Evan McMullin, who ran against Trump as an Independent in the presidential election, also shared his criticism following Hannity's interview Tuesday:

Assange had not even been especially vehement in his denial of Russia as the perpetrator. "On the top [of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security's Joint Analysis Report on Russian interference in the U.S. election], there is a disclaimer saying nothing — there is no guarantee that any of this information is accurate," he told Hannity on Tuesday. "It's a guess," Hannity asked, and Assange shook his head. "I used to be a computer security expert," Assange said. "What they have is what they call indicators. So, a way to recognize if these tools, these alleged Russian tools, have been used on your system." Jeva Lange

8:51 p.m. ET

On Erin Burnett OutFront Monday night, the CNN host was down a panelist, as Michael Anton, President Trump's former top national security spokesman, bowed out following Trump's much-derided press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Burnett was joined by journalist Julia Ioffe and CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon, but noted there was a person missing. "Michael Anton was going to be here," she said, but "he canceled, and he knows I'm going to tell you this, because he said he could not defend the president on his actions today." Anton, using a pseudonym, was behind the essay "The Flight 93 Election," which tried to convince conservatives wary of Trump to vote for him anyway because "2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die."

During his joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Trump questioned American intelligence agencies and their findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, sharing that Putin "said it's not Russia...I don't see any reason why it would be." Catherine Garcia

8:03 p.m. ET

In an interview Monday with Fox News' Chris Wallace, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it is "ridiculous" to believe Russia could influence Americans from so far away.

"Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States — do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" he said. Russia has "never interfered with the internal affairs of the United States, let alone its elections," he added. On Friday, the Department of Justice announced indictments of 12 Russian intelligence operatives accused of hacking emails from Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign employees, and when Wallace tried to hand Putin a copy of the indictment, he refused to take it.

Putin also denied being "this kind of a strongman that I'm being portrayed," and told Wallace that no one in Russia gave any thought to President Trump before the election. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this — and I may come as rude — but before he announced he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us," Putin said. Watch the interview — which gets testy at times — below. Catherine Garcia

6:53 p.m. ET

President Trump coined a new term on Monday, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity that "nuclear warming" is the biggest issue the United States is facing.

Trump spoke with Hannity after his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I know President Obama said global warming is our biggest problem and I would say that no, nuclear warming is our biggest problem, by a factor of about five million," Trump said. "The nuclear problem, we have to make sure, we have to be very careful, if you look at Russia and the United States, that's 90 percent of the nuclear weapons."

Putin is also "working on other countries," Trump said, and "wants to be very helpful with North Korea. We're doing well with North Korea. We have time, there's no rush, it's been going on for many years." Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

5:09 p.m. ET

Fox News pundits are predicting a tough road ahead for President Trump as he deals with the fallout of his comments in Helsinki on Monday.

White House correspondent John Roberts said that the joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin would "cost the president dearly politically," noting that Trump is already "taking it on the chin" from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Host Shep Smith agreed that Trump would face an onslaught of criticism, and he expressed disbelief that "the president of the United States will not say he believes his own government over President Putin." Smith shut down Trump's suggestion that it was unclear whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election: "There's no question, none at all, from [Trump's] own employees, his own intelligence services, and members of his own party," he said. “Russia interfered in our 2016 election and is interfering in the democratic process right now."

The two reporters solemnly agreed with what Roberts called a "growing consensus": that "the president threw the United States under the bus." Watch Roberts' comments below, via Shareblue. Summer Meza

4:28 p.m. ET
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Just hours after President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Justice Department revealed charges against a Russian citizen for conspiracy against the U.S.

Maria Butina, a Russian national living in Washington, D.C., was charged Monday with conspiracy to act as an unregistered Russian agent, per the DOJ's press release. She was arrested in D.C. on Sunday after allegedly working from 2015 until at least February 2017 to infiltrate American politics.

Butina apparently built close ties with the GOP through a gun rights organization, which sources say is the NRA, to advance Russia's interests in America, per the DOJ affadavit. She connected with politicians and candidates and even went to National Prayer Breakfasts, all under the direction of a high-level Russian official who was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April, The Associated Press reports. Butina was supposed to be studying international relations in the U.S. on a student visa but was secretly reporting back to Moscow, per NPR.

In a statement, Butina's lawyer denied the charges, saying that "there is simply no indication of Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law in the United States," NPR says. The charges are not part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the 2016 election but are connected to a separate Russian intelligence operation, The New York Times reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:19 p.m. ET

After President Trump's shocking press conference alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, national security experts and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have sounded the alarm on Trump's apparent choice to believe Putin over America's own intelligence agencies. While acknowledging that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, among other U.S. security experts, informed him that Russia was responsible for the interference in the 2016 election, Trump sided with Putin, whom he said told him "it's not Russia."

Trump's comments prompted fierce blowback, including a fiery statement from Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who said — among other jaw-dropping condemnations — that "no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant." Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican congressman from Texas and former CIA officer, had an explanation for Trump's conduct that was possibly even less flattering: "I never would have thought that the U.S. president would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands," Hurd wrote.

Hurd additionally declared that "the president is wrong. Russia interfered in the 2016 election and seeks to undermine our democracy." While Putin disputed Russia's role in the meddling, he did take the occasion of the press conference to remind everyone that he was a highly trained KBG officer before becoming Russia's president. Kimberly Alters

4:08 p.m. ET

Responding to fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle regarding his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump said he hopes we can all just move on from this whole election-meddling thing.

In a Monday tweet, Trump said "we cannot exclusively focus on the past" when it comes to building "a brighter future" in U.S.-Russia relations.

"I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people," wrote Trump, pointedly pulling out the one bit of his press conference comments that resembled slight criticism of Russia. When asked whether he believed the intelligence community over Putin's denials of interference, Trump dodged, saying, "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia that meddled.

Trump's emphasized trust in intelligence officials, who are quite positive that Russia interfered in the election, flew in the face of his own comments. Just moments later, he lauded Putin's "strong and powerful" denial of wrongdoing. Summer Meza

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