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Trump Putin: US president defends meeting and press conference

President Donald Trump with arms crossed July 2018

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Reuters

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The president said “Trump Derangement Syndrome” was to blame for the criticism

US President Donald Trump has defended his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid a backlash over his performance.

On Twitter, Mr Trump condemned “haters” who did not want him getting along with Mr Putin, saying they suffered from “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.

Mr Trump said he misspoke at the press conference with Mr Putin.

He had sided with Mr Putin over his own intelligence services on claims of Russian election meddling.

That had sparked outrage from both sides of the political divide.

Posting on Twitter, Mr Trump said people “who wanted to see a boxing match” were bothered by his rapport with Mr Putin.

“They would rather go to war than see this!” he wrote.

The tweets came a day after Mr Trump said he had missed out a word when appearing to support Mr Putin’s claim that there was no Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election.

President Trump said he accepted his intelligence services’ assessment that Russia had interfered.

Media captionTrump says he “misspoke” at Putin summit, but is it too late? Anthony Zurcher explains

Damage done

Analysis by the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher in Washington

Does Donald Trump believe in ominous metaphors? As he affirmed his support for US intelligence agencies, the lights went to black in the White House conference room.

Once order was restored, he said he had been in the dark as to why a storm had swirled around his presidency since his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. It was, he said, because he had misspoken.

That is going to be hard for many of the president’s critics to swallow, however. Even if he did mean to say, “I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be Russia”, it is a pretty weak way to confront the head of a nation accused of targeting the heart of American democracy.

What is more, the context of the president’s comments make a simple slip of the tongue seem less likely.

At the very least, the president gave his supporters some material to rally around.

The damage, however, has been done. Mr Trump can give as many White House statements as he likes, but on the biggest stage – standing beside the Russian president – he fumbled. All the explanations cannot change that.


What Trump said then…

The controversy centres on a response he gave to a question at a news conference on Monday following the summit with Mr Putin.

This is an extract from the transcript posted by the White House.

REPORTER: President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is, who do you believe?

TRUMP: My people came to me… they said they think it’s Russia. 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.

…. what he says now

Mr Trump said he had reviewed the transcript and realised he needed to clarify.

“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,” he said.

“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”

The US president added: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

Media captionThe ways Trump and Putin see eye to eye

Mr Trump said that the interference had had no impact on the election, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.

However, he did not respond when reporters asked him if he would condemn Mr Putin.

During the press conference with President Putin – in the same answer as the transcript above – Mr Trump went on to say: “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer; 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.”

In another tweet on Wednesday, Mr Trump said that Russia had “agreed to help with North Korea”, adding that “the process is moving along”.

“There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!” the president wrote.

He said that his meeting with Mr Putin was “positive” and “may prove to be, in the long run… an even greater success”.

How great has been the outrage?

Chuck Schumer, leader of the opposition Democrats in the Senate, said Mr Trump’s retraction of his previous comments was a sign of weakness.

“He made a horrible statement, tried to back off, but couldn’t even bring himself to back off,” he told the Senate. “It shows the weakness of President Trump that he is afraid to confront Mr Putin directly.”

Republicans and Democrats alike were dumbfounded that Mr Trump had sided with Russia over his own intelligence officials after Monday’s summit.

The US and Russia have been long-term adversaries and remain far apart on major issues. Some lawmakers were also upset that Mr Trump had refused to offer specific criticisms of Russia and Mr Putin, instead saying both countries were responsible for poor relations.

Even one of his most loyal Republican supporters, Newt Gingrich, said the comments were the “most serious mistake of his presidency”.

House Republican Mike Turner accused Mr Trump of having damaged American foreign policy by failing to take Russia to task.

“He’s given them a pass and is certainly not holding them accountable for what they’re doing,” he added.

Trump Putin: US president defends meeting and press conference

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