Trump-Putin Summit
July 17, 2018

When President Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies, "we hit bottom," CNN's Chris Cuomo said Monday night, but there's actually a "blessing in that, because there can be no more debate on which way is up."

Trump "delivered us here with a display of cowardly self-interest," Cuomo said, but this ended up bringing people together. There is a consensus that "Putin is not right, Trump is wrong, we believe our institutions, we trust in our democracy, Russia did interfere, we will not trade facts for feelings of legitimacy, we will not trade our conscious for conspiracy," Cuomo said, and with so many Americans of all political stripes getting outraged, "Trump's luck ran out."

"Russia attacked our democracy," Cuomo continued, and "we won't stand for it. We won't let the president say otherwise, but we're facing a question: Where do we go from here?" Cuomo said one thing he knows for sure is that "you've got Republicans, you've got Democrats, and right now, they're on the same page, and if they move together, they will wind up in a better place." Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

July 16, 2018

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

July 16, 2018

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

July 16, 2018

President Trump on Monday directly pitted the advice of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats against the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin — and appeared to side with the latter. During his joint press conference with the Russian leader following their closed-door summit, Trump said of Russian meddling in the 2016 election: "All I can do is ask the question. People came to me — Dan Coats came to me, and some others — they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

Following Trump's appearance with Putin, Coats released a statement reaffirming the conclusion of the American intelligence community, which is that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Without mentioning either the American or the Russian president, Coats wrote: "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy." He added pointedly: "We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

BBC editor Paul Danahar noted that the fact that Coats would release "a statement that appears to be in repudiation of his boss tells you how unprecedented Trump's comments alongside President Putin today truly were." Read Coats' full statement here. Kimberly Alters

July 16, 2018

Conservatives in and out of Washington were alarmed by President Trump's joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, where the American leader refused to affirm the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin's Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Pressed directly by Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire as to whether he believes Putin's assertions that Russia is innocent over the findings of American intelligence, Trump dodged the question altogether — and he later lauded Putin's "very strong denials" of meddling and said, "I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia that interfered.

But where some national security experts saw a president who appears to be "wholly in the pocket of Putin," Vice President Mike Pence saw quite the opposite. "What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first," Pence said, per NBC News' Peter Alexander.

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin notes that on July 27, 2016 — just days after Pence was introduced as Trump's running mate at the Republican National Convention — Pence struck quite a different tune. "If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections," Pence said at the time, "I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences." Kimberly Alters

July 16, 2018

President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than two hours Monday, in a closed-door summit that will produce no historical record. After their meeting, the two men emerged for a joint press conference, where Putin once again claimed that Russia did not interfere in America's 2016 presidential election — a claim that defies the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian election meddling and whether there was any collusion by the Trump campaign with those efforts, has indicted multiple Russian entities and individuals for unlawful interference. But during the Monday presser, Trump took the opportunity to once again side with Putin over American intelligence, casting doubt on Russia's culpability by saying "both countries" were "responsible" for their fraught relations.

Trump then went a step further, attacking the Mueller probe while standing side-by-side with Putin. "The probe is a disaster for our country. it's kept us apart. It's kept us separated," Trump said. "There was no collusion. Everybody knows it." For good measure, Trump then cited his Electoral College victory in the 2016 race, noting that he ran a "brilliant campaign" and that's why he won "by a lot."

Putin, for his part, called the allegations of collusion "nonsense." "Could you name a single fact that definitively proves the collusion?" he asked. He later acknowledged outright that he "wanted" Trump to win the 2016 election. Kimberly Alters

July 16, 2018

"What is the point" of President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, wonders former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Does it have a "strategic purpose?" Hagel asked Monday. "Is this just a golf date with another leader?"

If you've had the same question, Trump has answers — perhaps too many answers. As The Washington Post documents, the president's explanations for why he should meet with Putin, as well as why they need to talk alone, have not been consistent in the run-up to Helsinki.

The president's discussion plan has at various points included Ukraine, China, Syria, "other parts of the Middle East," nuclear weapons, trade, military, missiles, election meddling, extradition of the 12 Russian agents indicted for election-related hacking Friday, and "many other subjects."

As for why Trump wanted to meet with Putin alone, CNN reports that the White House provided three separate reasons: "[Trump] wanted alone time to assess [Putin] better, he didn't want details of their conversation to leak and — this is key — didn't want aides who favor a hard line against Russia to undercut him."

Trump has also seemed to propose meeting just to meet ("I do believe in meetings") or to develop a positive personal relationship with Putin. "I hope we get along well," he said last week. "[I]n a sense, we're competitors. Not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my enemy. And, hopefully, someday, maybe he'll be a friend." Maybe the strategic purpose was friendship all along. Bonnie Kristian

July 16, 2018

As President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin make their way around Helsinki for Monday's summit, they will be met with some 300 billboards promoting press freedom.

The ad campaign is run by Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. Its aim, explained editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi, is to make a "statement on behalf of critical and high quality journalism."

The billboards are printed in English and Russian and feature the paper's headlines about Trump and Putin's hostility toward the media.

Trump has labeled the media the "enemy of the American people" and decries unfavorable reports as "fake news" regardless of accuracy. Putin's Russia is marked by "draconian laws and website-blocking" targeting independent media, notes watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF): "At least five journalists are currently detained in connection with their reporting — an unprecedented number — and more and more bloggers are being jailed."

RSF ranks Russia 148 of 180 on its 2018 World Press Freedom Ranking. The U.S. has dropped to rank 45. Finland is in the top five. Bonnie Kristian

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