By Alisha Haridasani
President Trump on Monday refused to state whether he believed his own intelligence agencies about Russia’s attempt to meddle in the 2016 election, widening the rift between the White House and American security agencies.
“I don’t see any reason why Russia would interfere with U.S. elections," Trump said during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin by his side in Helsinki, Finland. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”
“I think that the probe is a disaster for our country,” Trump added, taking the unusual step to undermine his own Justice Department on foreign soil.
The joint press conference took place days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian military officials for orchestrating a sophisticated campaign to steal information from the Democratic campaign and distribute the documents to influence the election.
Putin, on Monday, denied those allegations. “The Russian state has never interfered, and is not going to interfere, in internal American affairs, including the election process,” he said at the presser.
Putin then went on to suggest that the two countries should work together on the investigation, proposing that the U.S. should send in requests for Russian law enforcement to question the 12 people indicted.
Trump called Putin’s offer “incredible.”
The press conference came after an hours-long private meeting between Trump and Putin and caps Trump’s week-long trip across Europe, where he spent much of his time censuring NATO allies and criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Immediately after the conference, Republican and Democratic lawmakers voiced their concerns about Trump’s performance on the international stage -- even those loyal to the stage. House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of Trump's staunchest allies in Congress, said there is "no question that Russia interfered in our election."
"The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally," Ryan said in a statement.
“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,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “This is shameful.”
Former CIA director John Brennan said Trump was “nothing short of treasonous” at the press conference and the president is “wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted his discontent, saying the meeting was a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable."
But despite the outcry among politicians, the press conference won't shift the Republican party's support of the President, said Nahal Toosi, Politico's foreign affairs correspondent.
"They're not going to be standing up to this president. They feel like he, in terms of policy, is way too important to them."
The Republican party has several domestic issues in the pipeline, chief among them the midterm elections in November and the confirmation of a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, said Toosi.