By Julie Hirschfeld Davis
© 2018 New York Times News Service
HELSINKI — President Donald Trump stood next to President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday and publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election, wrapping up what he called a “deeply productive” summit with an extraordinary show of support for a leader accused of attacking American democracy.
“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that was responsible for the election hacking, Trump added. “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.”
The 45-minute news conference offered the remarkable spectacle of the American and Russian presidents both pushing back on the notion of Moscow’s election interference, with Putin demanding evidence of something he said had never been proven and Trump appearing to agree.
When asked whether he believed Putin or his own intelligence agencies, Trump changed the subject, demanding to know why the FBI never examined the hacked computer servers of the Democratic National Committee and asking about the fate of emails missing from the server of Hillary Clinton, his campaign rival.
Trump’s statements were a remarkable break with his own administration, which on Friday indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for cyberattacks intended to interfere in the presidential contest.
In the United States, critics of Trump reacted quickly to the day’s events. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., responded sharply to Trump’s statement that Russia and the United States shared blame for their deteriorated relationship.
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” he said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people, but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”