19 Jul 2018

Trump-Putin controversy: US president defends meeting and press conference

10:22 am on 19 July 2018

US President Donald Trump has lashed out at "haters" who condemned his meeting with Russia's president.

US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 17, 2018

Donald Trump said his critics "wanted to see a boxing match" between him and Mr Putin Photo: AFP

On Twitter, Mr Trump said his critics were suffering from "Trump Derangement Syndrome".

The broadside came a day after he said he misspoke about claims of Kremlin meddling in US elections following Monday's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Responding on Twitter on Wednesday morning, the Republican president said his critics would "rather go to war" and "wanted to see a boxing match" between him and Mr Putin.

During a cabinet meeting later in the day, a journalist asked Mr Trump if Russia was still targeting the US. He answered: "Thank you very much, no."

The remark generated headlines in US media, because such an assessment would contradict the views of US intelligence chief Dan Coats, who said on Monday that Russia was involved in "ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy".

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said later on Wednesday that Mr Trump was responding "no" to further questions from reporters.

Despite the controversy, Republican voters seem to be sticking by Mr Trump.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found that despite a firestorm of media criticism, Mr Trump's Finland summit had no real impact on his overall approval ratings.

In the survey, 42 percent of all registered voters approved of his job performance, which is consistent with averages thus far.

Some 71 percent of Republicans polled approved of his response to Russia, while only 14% of Democrats were in favour.

President of the US Donald Trump and President of Russia Vladimir Putin during the joint news conference following their meeting in Helsinki.

At a news conference with Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump said he "didn't see any reason why it would be" Russia that interfered in US elections. Photo: AFP

What now?

US lawmakers are calling for a court demand to be issued for the notes of the US translator who accompanied Mr Trump to his two-hour meeting with Mr Putin.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to testify before the Senate next week about the summit.

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, tried on Tuesday to stage a symbolic vote to support the findings of Russian interference, but was blocked by Republicans.

Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, an Arizona Republican and a Delaware Democrat, are reportedly working on a nonbinding resolution to endorse the intelligence committee's findings.

But Texas Republican John Cornyn said the Senate should focus on "additional sanctions instead of just some messaging exercise".

What's the reaction?

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, called the Helsinki news conference "saddening and disappointing".

Even one of Mr Trump's most loyal Republican supporters, Newt Gingrich, said the comments were the "most serious mistake of his presidency".

Yet the president's support held firm among the Republican rank-and-file, especially from members of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Representative Andy Harris, a member of the Caucus, said: "I disregard and discount anything that involves the mainstream media press."

What exactly did Trump say?

During a news conference after Monday's summit, Mr Trump was asked about alleged Russian meddling in the US election.

According to a transcript posted by the White House, he said: "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."

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

"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."

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.


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