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‘Putin’s Poodle’ and other scathing comments emerge after Trump’s appearance in Helsinki

By Christina Boyle and Laura King • Jul 18, 2018 at 11:15 AM

LONDON — The headlines were brutal.

“Best ally of Putin,” said Tuesday’s front page of France’s sober-minded Le Monde.

“Trump makes it easy for Putin,” echoed German’s Die Welt.

“Trump 0, Putin 1,” said the Finnish business daily Kauppalehti, playing off the just-concluded World Cup soccer tournament in Russia.

In globe-spanning day-after news coverage, Helsinki, the Finnish capital where Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump met Monday, suddenly became shorthand for what was widely described as a very bad day for the U.S. president.

The leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera said Helsinki marked an “American surrender,” describing Trump’s performance at a post-summit news conference as “obliging side man to a victorious Vladimir Putin.”

Traditional U.S. allies in Europe, having already absorbed a blast of criticism from Trump at last week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels, were dismayed anew by his seeming show of solidarity with Putin over the issue of election interference by Moscow.

That issue hits close to home for key U.S. friends: European elections also have been hit by Russian cyberattacks, which previously have drawn strong pushback from leaders such as France’s President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

In Washington on Tuesday, Trump — somewhat grudgingly — walked back his Helsinki comments, saying he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the presidential vote. “Could be other people also,” he said. “A lot of people out there.”

But the summit’s impact lingered. Britain’s Guardian newspaper, in its lead headline on the Helsinki meeting, rolled out the T-word — “treasonous” — albeit in quotes.

Corriere della Sera summarized Putin’s stance as asserting “zero interference” in the 2016 U.S. vote. “Trump believes him,” it added flatly.

Bright reviews, not surprisingly, came in Russia, where Putin’s performance alongside Trump was hailed as a national triumph. The state-run newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta trumpeted: “The West’s attempts to isolate Russia failed.”

The Helsinki encounter also won plaudits on Europe’s far right. Italy’s hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who was in Moscow to meet Russian officials, praised Russia for having a government “that acts in the interests of its people” and lamented that such behavior was “rare in Europe.”

Some took a long view — and a gloomy one — of the summit’s still-to-be-felt repercussions. Italian daily La Repubblica saw a symbolic end to the rules-based postwar world order.

“Do Trump and Putin have alternative plans to substitute it?” it asked in a front-page editorial. An op-ed in Le Monde called the Trump-Putin meeting a “dangerous liaison” for the entire world.

“Trump is praising Putin while at the same time he is constantly attacking without any reason America’s closest allies,” columnist Martin Klingst wrote in Germany’s Die Zeit online.

Another German commentator, Stefan Kornelius, wrote in the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the world’s fate lay in the hands of “two easily irritated senior citizens, one of whom is possibly somewhat smarter than the other.”

Britain’s tabloids, fresh from covering Trump’s tumultuous visit to the United Kingdom last week, had a field day.

“Putin’s poodle,” the Daily Mirror dubbed Trump. The Daily Express spoke of Putin’s “new best buddy” and had a double-page spread with the headline: “A nod and a wink … and the Cold War ends.”

In an op-ed, the Guardian said Trump was inadvertently prescient when he previewed last week’s swing through Europe by saying the meeting with Putin would be the “easiest” of his stops.

“First rough up NATO in order to damage trans-Atlantic commitments,” said an op-ed summing up the president’s seeming mission. “Then stir things up in Britain in order to damage the EU, and, finally, play the cooperative statesman in his talks with the Russian president.

“Or, to put it another way: bully, bully and cringe,” it said.

Other news outlets focused on national or regional interests in assessing the Putin-Trump meeting. Israel has grown increasingly alarmed about the presence of Iranian forces and allied militias in Syria. The Jerusalem Post noted praise for Israel, while saying the two leaders “diverge on Syria and Iran.”

Trump’s assertion that the United States and Russia could together address dire humanitarian conditions in Syria — where Moscow and the government of ally Bashar Assad have staged countless punishing airstrikes — were met with skepticism and derision by some human rights and opposition activists.

“Will you now explain how?” the pro-opposition Syria Campaign tweeted at Trump on Tuesday.

In Germany, where Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had weighed in Monday with a statement saying, “We can no longer fully rely on the White House,” some newspapers framed the summit as a meeting of minds — and one at odds with the European consensus. “Summit of the autocrats,” said the business daily Handelsblatt.

Some outlets stuck with a more straightforward approach in news coverage but paired that with scathing commentary.

The Irish Times, in a news story, cited a “barrage of US criticism” over Helsinki. But in a separate opinion piece by Washington-based columnist Suzanne Lynch, it called Trump’s performance “humiliating,” saying that the news conference “shows a rambling, inexperienced and amateur US president.”

In Finland’s Nordic neighbor Sweden, the largest-selling daily, Hufvudstadsbladet, featured a picture of Putin smiling alongside Trump. The headline read, “Trump was my favorite.”

* * *

Trump seeks to quell furor over remarks siding with Putin over US intelligence, says he misspoke at summit

By Noah Bierman - Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, seeking to stanch a national furor, said on Tuesday that he misspoke at his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, and meant to say that he does in fact see Russia as the culprit that interfered in the 2016 election, just as U.S. intelligence agencies have found.

The president’s new version was unlikely to satisfy many critics. It is undercut by his full, widely watched remarks on Monday, which gave weight to Putin’s denials while criticizing the United States.

To many, Trump had missed his chance to speak truth to power alongside Russia’s president. He made his correction to reporters at the White House, as he sat alongside Republican lawmakers.

In his attempt to walk back his remarks in Finland, Trump said he accepts the consensus of American intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election. Yet in a sign that he cannot fully accept those findings — seeing them as a challenge to his election legitimacy — he added that the perpetrators “could be other people also.” That assertion is not supported by known intelligence.

At a Helsinki news conference, as Putin looked on, Trump said the following to a reporter’s question about whether he believed U.S. intelligence agencies, or Putin’s denials of interference: “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” Russia.

On Tuesday, however, he said this: “The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be’ Russia.”

“I have the strongest respect for our intelligence agencies, headed by my people,” Trump told the reporters at a hastily scheduled session ahead of his meeting with some House Republicans about additional tax cuts.

He also said, “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” referring to midterm elections.

Trump afterward ignored questions that reporters shouted, including whether he would criticize Putin, as White House aides pushed them out of the Cabinet room.

The day before, the president had blamed the United States for sour relations with Russia and criticized the FBI, Democrats, Hillary Clinton and the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s election activities and possible Trump campaign complicity — all as Putin, occasionally smiling, stood feet away in the Finland presidential palace.

The scene almost instantly drew condemnation as it played out on television screens in the U.S. Trump, who repeatedly praised and deferred to Putin, was criticized by foreign policy and national security veterans as weak, an insult that is particularly galling to him.

In two subsequent interviews with Fox News and in his tweets after the summit, Trump sounded defensive, and more surprised and frustrated by the reaction than contrite. He did not, however, make any attempt to correct his remarks until more than 24 hours later.

“I came back and I said: ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ ” Trump said Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he was not buying Trump’s correction.

“President Trump tried to squirm away from what he said yesterday. It’s 24 hours late and in the wrong place,” he said. “If the president can’t say directly to President Putin that he is wrong and we are right and our intelligence agencies are right, it’s ineffective and, worse, another sign of weakness.”

Trump faced growing pressure from Republicans to either recant his remarks — an unlikely act for this president — or at least change the subject to one that unites his party, such as tax cuts or the pending Senate confirmation of conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

“It’s too early to say if this will have any consequence on their elections, but they’re clearly navigating that minefield very cautiously,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican consultant who had private conversations with multiple lawmakers after the Helsinki news conference. “It’s really hard for anyone to come out and say that meeting was a success for the president or certainly this country, so many are reserving their comments.”

For many Republicans, the issue goes beyond politics. Opposition to Russia’s aggressive behavior and authoritarian rule has long been a core aspect of party ideology.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., quickly condemned Trump’s comments in Helsinki, though he did not name Trump. “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” he said.

And while Ryan reiterated that he thought special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should be allowed to finish his probe, he did not promise to let up on House Republicans’ attempts to undermine the investigation by echoing Trump’s claims of bias.

The speaker and other House Republican leaders tried to change the subject to taxes and the economy during their weekly news conference. But Ryan was bombarded with questions about Trump’s Helsinki performance, whether it damaged American interests and whether Congress would do anything beyond expressing regret.

“I have not spoken to him,” Ryan said. “I put out a statement yesterday, within minutes after that press conference. And I think that statement speaks for itself.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., expressed support for NATO allies that Trump had criticized during an alliance summit days before his meeting with Putin. McConnell, like many Republicans, stopped short of criticizing Trump explicitly.

“The Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018,” McConnell told reporters.

Signaling Republicans’ own efforts at damage control in the wake of Trump’s Helsinki performance, McConnell said there might be a vote on a bill sponsored by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat, that would create punishments if Russia interferes in future elections. He made no commitment to bringing the measure up, however.

Democrats were eager to keep the subject alive, calling for hearings, resolutions reaffirming American intelligence assessments, and measures lending money to states to protect their voting systems from hacking. One proposal was for a hearing to question the U.S. interpreter who, along with a Russian translator, was one of two people in the room with Trump and Putin on Monday when the leaders met for more than two hours with no aides or note-takers — a break in typical summit protocol.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump’s efforts at damage control “embarrasses our nation even further.”

“After watching the president cower in front of Putin, the American people now deserve to know what Trump will do now,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“Will he finally take on Putin? Has he called Putin to convey his newfound confidence in our Intelligence Community? Will he demand the extradition of the 12 recently indicted Russian nationals and finally enforce the bipartisan sanctions against Russia?”

Democrats were also beginning to use the issue in their campaigns to win control of the House. For example, Max Rose, a Democrat trying to unseat Rep. Dan Donovan in a district centered around the Staten Island borough of New York City, called his opponent a “spineless doormat” in the face of Trump’s transgressions.

“At a moment where members of both parties are rightfully calling out the president’s actions yesterday, Congressman Dan Donovan cannot muster up the courage to challenge the president when he defended a hostile foreign power instead of standing up for America and the people who risk their lives to keep us safe,” Rose said in a statement.

Donovan, according to his office, has consistently agreed with the assessments that Russia meddled while calling for an end to the probe “so detractors can stop using it as a political football to undermine the president.”

Donovan’s fellow New York Republican, Rep. Peter King, often the president’s supporter, called Trump’s comments “indefensible” in a Fox News interview. King also took issue with Trump for expressing openness to Putin’s invitation to have Russian intelligence officials cooperate on the U.S. prosecution of Russian officers indicted on Friday.

“That’s like bringing ISIS into a terrorism task force meeting,” he said, referring to the extremist group Islamic State.

Still, many Republican lawmakers seemed to avoid direct criticism of Trump and instead focused their criticism on Putin. CNN said dozens of Republican members of Congress rebuffed invitations to react to Trump’s performance at the Helsinki summit.

Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based Republican consultant, said many Republicans see too much risk in taking Trump on, even if the president’s behavior may cause some worry.

“There have been so many political flashpoints assigned by the media … that makes your head spin,” he added. “And two weeks later we don’t even remember them.”

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(Special correspondent Boyle reported from London and Times staff writer King from Washington. Staff writer Alexandra Zavis in Beirut and special correspondents Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin, Sabra Ayres in Helsinki and Tom Kington in Rome contributed to this report. Times staff writers Sarah D. Wire and Chris Megerian also contributed to this report.)

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©2018 Los Angeles Times

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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