Seconds after President Donald Trump’s news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin ended Monday, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper called the American leader’s performance “disgraceful.”
“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader, certainly that I’ve ever seen,” Cooper said.
CBS’ Margaret Brennan said she was messaging some U.S. officials during the speech who said they were turning off the television. “It’s a punch in the gut,” she said.
There were mixed reactions on Fox News Channel, whose commentators usually represent Trump’s biggest supporters.
“Shameful, disgraceful, treasonous — those are some of the descriptions of what President Trump did today in Helsinki,” Fox’s Shepard Smith said to open his news show.
Still in the afterglow of hosting the World Cup, Putin pulled out a red-and-white soccer ball and tossed it at Trump, whose country will co-host the 2026 tournament.
Trump said he’d give the ball to his 12-year-old son Barron, a soccer fan for whom he installed a soccer net at the White House. Then the U.S. president tossed the ball to his wife, Melania, sitting in the front row.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an outspoken Putin critic who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Trump, tweeted: “If it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”
NO TO HILLARY
The Russian leader confirmed international suspicions and the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community that he was rooting for Trump over Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Yes, I did,” Putin said, when asked if he wanted Trump to win. “Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
After all, there was little love lost between Putin and Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Clinton, who had grown increasingly critical of his government’s actions in Ukraine and Syria.
Russia has used election meddling before to undermine public confidence in democratically elected governments. Even if Putin didn’t specifically order meddling to benefit Trump in 2016, U.S. officials say Russia tried to undermine Americans’ faith in their government.
Putin appeared to poke at the sensitive subject Monday when he responded to a question about meddling by asking, “Do you believe United States is a democracy?”
Putin was in the driver’s seat during the news conference — speaking first and easily parrying with reporters. Trump, whose opening remarks were delivered from notes, appeared uncomfortable at some points and defensive at others.
The leaders’ news conference was overshadowed by talk of 2016 and Russia interference, and as Trump remained focused on pushing back on questions about his election, the rest of the bilateral relationship was left to Putin to explain. Trump did not criticize Russia’s support for Syrian leader Bashar Assad, whom the U.S. has called on to step down. Instead, Trump said the pair was committed to Israel’s security and maintained that the U.S. and Russian militaries “do get along.”
Regarding Iran, Putin chastised the U.S. president for weakening the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump did not communicate the U.S. opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving it to Putin to note, when asked, the U.S. position.
“(The) posture of President Trump on Crimea is well-known, and he stands firmly by it,” Putin said. “He continued to maintain that it was illegal to annex it.”
Putin, of course, disagrees.
NO TRUMP CARD
Asked directly whether his government possesses embarrassing or incriminating material on the U.S. president, Putin told reporters: “It’s hard to imagine greater nonsense.” He added: “Please get this rubbish out of your heads.”
Speaking to salacious claims about Trump’s business trips to Russia that first surfaced in an election-year dossier prepared by an ex-British spy, Putin said, “I did not even know he was in Moscow.” Trump has long denied the allegations and has used the partly unsubstantiated claims in the document, funded by Democrats, as a cudgel against the wider investigation of Russian interference.