Republican politicians in the US have joined the Democrats and intelligence officials in denouncing President Donald Trump’s failure to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin over interference in the US elections, calling his response as “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
John McCain, the senior Republican senator, said Trump’s seeming acceptance of Putin’s denial was a historical “low point” for the US presidency and the Helsinki summit between the two leaders a “tragic mistake”.
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McCain said the joint press conference between Trump and Putin in Helsinki “was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”.
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a blistering statement.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said there was “nearly universal” criticism of Trump’s actions in Helsinki.
Taking direct issue with the president who appointed him, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said US spy agencies have been “clear” and “fact-based” in their assessment that Moscow interfered in the presidential race two years ago – an assessment that Trump refused to endorse in Helsinki.
Coats added that Russia remains behind “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”.
Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018
Putin “just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said, adding that “President Putin was extremely strong in his denial today.”
That came three days after the US Department of Justice indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers.
Trump also appeared to embrace Putin’s offer to have Russian investigators work together with US prosecutors on the case of the 12 just indicted.
That prompted House Speaker Paul Ryan, of the ruling Republican Party, to say 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,” he said.
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s answer on meddling “will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness”.
“This is shameful,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and staunch critic of the president.
Mark Simakovsky, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera that the summit in Helsinki has damaged Trump’s credibility.
“He failed on all accounts. In many ways he widened the gap between those who say they don’t feel he has the credibility and capability to follow through on US foreign policy,” he said.
Simakovsky said the bipartisan criticism of Trump could trigger further opposition to his presidency and further investigation into his campaign ties to Russia.
The language used by Democrats was much harsher, including accusations of “treason”.
“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defence officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said.
Democratic California Representative Jimmy Gomez charged: “To side with Putin over US intelligence is disgusting; to fail to defend the US is on the verge of treason.”
I always resist these comparisons but Trump’s performance today will go down with Neville Chamberlain’s at Munich.
He just gave aid and comfort to a despot who invaded our elections.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 16, 2018
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was blunter: “This entire trip has just been one giant middle finger from President Trump to his own country. Just jaw dropping,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former intelligence chief James Clapper called Trump’s acquiescence to Putin “an incredible capitulation,” while former CIA chief John Brennan labelled it “nothing short of treasonous”.
David Axelrod, a former top adviser of President Barack Obama, condemned Trump’s “treacherous performance”, and called for a “thorough and complete” probe by special investigators and Congress.