Standing next to President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin wanted Trump to win the 2016 election.
All the while, Trump still would not back his own intelligence agencies on election interference and told the world that he believes Putin’s word over theirs.
After their first-ever bilateral summit Monday in Helsinki, Putin was asked if we wanted President Trump to win in the 2016 election. He responded, “Yes, I did [want Trump to win] because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
In a January report, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that senior Russian officials—including Putin—wanted Trump to win the 2016 election and aimed their alleged interference efforts towards achieving that end. Former FBI Director James Comey told Congress in March that Putin wanted Trump to become president because “he very much disliked Clinton,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
While Putin avoided confirming any interference by Russia, and said that collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin was “utter nonsense,” Trump took Putin’s side and publicly doubted the accuracy of his own intelligence officials in front of his Russian counterpart.
"My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, some others, they said they think it's Russia,” Trump said. “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."
When directly asked about possible Russian interference, Trump said that “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial” and the Russian president “has an interesting idea” about the situation. (Putin did not explain what that “interesting idea” was.)
Just last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The GRU officers are also accused of posing as hackers DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 to disseminate the stolen information during the election.
Trump continued, harping on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and calling it a “disaster for our country.”
“I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it… They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign,” he said. “The main thing–we discussed this also–is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world… It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
In reaction to the press conference, former CIA chief John Brennan called Trump’s comments “nothing short of treasonous.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’” Brennan wrote on Twitter. “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”