Asked whether he believes his own intelligence agencies, which say that Russia interfered in the 2016 United States election, or Mr. Putin, who denies it, Mr. Trump refused to say, but he expressed doubt about whether Russia was to blame.
Mr. Trump raised the matter of Russian electoral meddling, the two leaders said at the news conference, and Mr. Putin reiterated his denial of Russian involvement.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and other American intelligence officials “said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
But when asked directly whom he believes, Mr. Trump changed the subject to what he said was misconduct by Democrats during the campaign.
The president’s ambivalence, after the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence agents over the election hacking, and after the findings of congressional committees, represents a remarkable divergence between Mr. Trump and the American national security apparatus.
Mr. Putin said: “President Trump mentioned the so-called interference of Russia in the American elections. I had to reiterate things I said several times: that the Russian state has never interfered, and is not going to interfere, in internal American affairs, including the election process.”
He offered to have Russian intelligence agencies work with their American counterparts to get to the bottom of the matter.
“What he did is an incredible offer,” Mr. Trump said. “He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.
Back home, some Republicans were taking another view
Republican leaders were largely silent after Mr. Trump’s news Mr. Putin, but a scattering of Republicans were aghast.
“I never thought that 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 aggression. This is shameful,” Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona senator, said on Twitter.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, joined in. “This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” he said. “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.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. ”
Representative Justin Amash, a libertarian-minded Republican from Michigan, weighed in more tepidly, but with eyebrows arched: “A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here,” he wrote on Twitter.
Democrats were not so circumspect. Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts called Mr. Trump’s performance a “national embarrassment.” And John O. Brennan, who was C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, spoke of impeachment: “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???”
A new era of cooperation — but on what?
News credit : Nytimes