'Treason summit': US fury at Trump's 'shameful' display
DONALD Trump appeared to accept the "strong and powerful" denials of Russia's Vladimir Putin there was no interference in the 2016 election, despite his own intelligence agencies concluding there was.
The two presidents spoke and took questions for 46 minutes after spending an afternoon together at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they both pledged to act on a number of serious issues confronting the world.
But it was the accusation Russia meddled in the election that wouldn't go away, with Mr Putin dismissing the claims as "nonsense" and Mr Trump boasting he had won the election due to a superior campaign.
US politicians and commentators were horrified by their President's performance in what CNN's John King labelled the "Surrender Summit."
Republican Senator John McCain called Mr Trump's joint press conference with Mr Putin "disgraceful" and a "low point" for the US presidency.
He called the Helsinki summit a "tragic mistake" in which Trump was "not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin" in a devastating statement.
"Coming close on the heels of President Trump's bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today's press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency," he said.
"No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."
Former US defence secretary Chuck Hagel, a Republican, said Mr Trump had "failed America," saying it was a sad day for the nation, and "a sad day for the world."
Arizona senator Jeff Flake said Mr Trump taking Russia's side over his intelligence agency was "shameful" while former CIA director John O'Brennan called it "treasonous", as the hashtag #treasonsummit began circulating.
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Mr Trump blamed the controversy over the 2016 election for souring relations between the two nuclear superpowers, adding: "It was a clean campaign, I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly ... we won that race and it's a shame there could be a little cloud over it."
I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 16, 2018
'Trust no one': Putin's odd denial
EARLIER: VLADIMIR Putin issued a remarkable denial of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election during a memorable news conference with Donald Trump at their historic summit.
"The Russian government has never interfered," Mr Putin said.
Mr Trump appeared to accept this, saying the Russian president was "very powerful" in his denial of any meddling and adding: "All I can do is ask the question."
But he added: "Where did you get this idea that President Trump trusts me, or I trust him?"
Mr Trump said the Russian president "has a very interesting idea" about election meddling, but did not elaborate.
The US President said he would not try to appease partisan critics by refusing to meet his counterpart, calling Mr Putin "a good competitor."
Donald Trump’s performance at his summit with Putin today was the most astonishing display of weakness and submission that I have ever seen from an American President. pic.twitter.com/Y8R7oN5fV2— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 16, 2018
Moments before the two presidents were due to speak to media, a man inside the press conference began yelling and heckling reporters doing live crosses.
He was seen holding a piece of paper that read: "Nuclear weapon ban treaty."
The man appeared to have accreditation as a journalist, identifying himself as journalist Sam Husseini from The Nation.
He was hauled out of the room by security moments before the start of the news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland.
Just happened here in Helsinki palace before Trump-Putin news conference —-Security hauls out a reporter holding up a sign saying “Nuclear Weapons Ban.” Here’s my video: pic.twitter.com/MedXDfmTn0— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) July 16, 2018
The US President said he and Mr Putin had discussed all sorts of issues, including Syria. "I'm sure we will be meeting together in the future often, and hopefully we will solve every one of the problems we discussed today," said Mr Trump, promising an "extraordinary relationship".
The leaders sat down in front of the world's media for brief comments and a handshake before they met alone and joined top aides for a working lunch.
Donald Trump sells out America— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) July 16, 2018
Mr Putin welcomed Mr Trump to Helsinki, saying they had already spoken several times but it was time to address relations between their countries, which would include some difficult multi-national issues.
"It is now time to talk in depth about our bilateral ties and sore points in the world - there are quite a lot of them for us to start paying attention," Mr Putin said.
Mr Trump called it a "great opportunity" for the countries, who were "not getting along as well as we could over the last two years."
He said he had raised the deterioration in relations during his campaign for the presidency maintaining that "getting along with Russia is a good thing".
Mr Putin sat expressionless as his US counterpart spoke of how the two countries controlled 90 per cent of the nuclear weapons on the planet. "That's not a good thing, it's not a positive force, it's a negative force," said Mr Trump.
Mr Putin touched down in the Finnish capital just after 1pm on Monday local time, the time he had been due to meet the summit host Sauli Niinisto, the president of Finland, at the Presidential Palace.
He took his dark jacket off after leaving his plane and gave a quick wave to onlookers before getting into a vehicle that was part of a 23-car motorcade.
A Kremlin spokesman said the situation between the two countries was "critical".
Streets in central Helsinki were closed for the summit, with Mr Putin arriving at the palace in his armoured car to be greeted by Mr Niinisto. Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump reached the palace about half an hour later in a Cadillac dubbed "The Beast", as part of a 34-car motorcade.
Mr Trump reportedly did not want to leave his hotel until Mr Putin had arrived. The Trumps were driven into the same security marquee as the Russians, and a curtain quickly pulled closed behind them.
Mr and Mrs Trump flew into the capital of Finland last night and arrived at the Presidential Palace where he was met by Mr Niinisto.
Mrs Trump was handed a bouquet of flowers as she and Mr Trump were shown through the palace and stood with Mr Niinisto and his wife Jenni Haukio on a balcony in the bright sunshine as they inspected the palace gardens.
In brief remarks before their bilateral meeting, Mr Trump thanked Mr Niinisto for his hospitality and told him how thrilled he was to be in Finland.
He said the NATO meeting - where he accused other leaders of not pulling their weight with defence spending - was "very successful", insisting "NATO has never been more successful".
Earlier, Mr Trump took to Twitter to lay the blame for the rocky relationship with Russia not with Moscow, but with Washington.
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now the Rigged Witch Hunt," he said referring to US special prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe into alleged Russian meddling into US elections.
In another tweet, he said he was looking forward to meeting Mr Putin and complained he would not get enough credit if the summit was a success.
"Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough," he said.
Their meeting comes as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pekovic told state-backed network RT there were obvious similarities between the two presidents.
"Any head of state, when talking to their foreign counterparts, has to take care of the interests of their state. And our president is quite pragmatic, quite consistent, quite practical," Mr Pekovic said. "He always says that he cares about the national interests of Russia, above anything else. That's why he understands the reciprocal beliefs of Donald Trump, as applied to his country."
The spokesman also revealed what Mr Putin wanted out of the meeting. He told the station - which is considered a mouthpiece for the Russian government - there still needed to be co-operation between countries.
"This is what we hope to achieve at this summit. We hope this will be a baby step towards overcoming the current critical situation in our bilateral relations," he said.
Mr Pekovic welcomed Mr Trump's statements that he viewed Mr Putin as a competitor. "But there is a but - competition has to be fair. We need fair competition in politics, in the economy. This helps all the global processes develop."
He sought to play down fears the US and Russia would make deals to the detriment of Europe. Mr Trump has just blasted European leaders for not contributing enough to NATO and Mr Putin has been treated as an outcast since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and most recently the Novichok nerve agent attack in the UK.
"Common sense tells us that countries of the world, especially European countries, should be interested in the normalisation of relations between Moscow and Washington."
Both leaders have been targeted by cheeky messages Finland's newspaper largest newspaper has erected around the city.
Helsingin Sanomat has posted 300 billboards written in English and Russia that highlighted the "turbulent relations with the media" both leaders had.
"Mr President welcome to the land of the free press" a huge billboard at Helsinki airport read.
It was a message that neither president would have been able to miss.