United States President Donald Trump returned late Monday from his European tour to stinging criticism as US intelligence officials and senior Republicans denounced the president as “shameful” and “disgraceful” after he refused to challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin over interference in American elections.
Trump stunned the world with his answer to a question about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election which saw him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
That came three days after the US Justice Department indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers, the latest in a series of actions taken by the US government since late 2016 in retribution for what intelligence agencies say was a broad plan to support Trump‘s election campaign directed by Putin himself.
Putin “just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said, sparking angry reactions from Americans.
Republican Senator John McCain 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.”
“Today’s press conference 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.”
Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said.
Bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, Trump headed into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
“This is shameful,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and staunch critic of the president.
Democrats however, chose a much harsher language to describe the president’s performance in Helsinki, accusing him of “treason.”
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.”
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.
The intelligence community also hit at the president, while White House officials scramble to contain the damage.