Photo via the Kremlin
President Donald Trump addressed the American public on Tuesday in an attempt to reverse the damage caused by his flabbergasting show of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland earlier this week. But after fumbling through a hardly believable, pre-written statement with a familiar “both sides” ad-lib, backlash against Trump has remained at an all-time high, with elected officials from both sides of the aisle speaking out against the president’s remarks.
After bickering with NATO leaders in Brussels and a weekend spent in Britain sidestepping the Queen and insulting Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump arrived in Helsinki on Monday and immediately one-upped his already disastrous international trip. During a 46-minute press conference alongside Putin, Trump told reporters that he believed the Russian leader when he claimed that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election; a position that has been repeatedly refuted by American intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
As the press conference continued, Trump offered more flattering praise for Putin, making sure to mention multiple times that there was no collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Kremlin. Immediately, political pundits, government officials, and American citizens began chastising the president’s comments, which came just days after Counselor Mueller indicted twelve Russian nationals on charges related to election meddling.
Back at the White House on Tuesday, Trump immediately tried to backtrack his comments, calling a press conference to address the American public. During his recitation, Trump claimed that he had misspoke in Finland, accidentally saying “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t.”
Though Trump said Monday that, “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,” he claims he actually intended to say that he didn’t “see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”
“So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good,” Trump added.
For lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the American public at large, however, those half-hearted clarifications did not go far enough. From the left, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner called Trump’s comments a “breach of his duty to defend our country against its adversaries,” while Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer hypothesized that Kremlin intelligence may be holding a piece of blackmail over Trump’s head.
“He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA,” Schumer said. “The President put what’s best for him over what’s best for the security and well-being of the United States.”
Stern accusations continued from Trump’s allies in the Republican party as well, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling the Helsinki remarks “the most serious mistake of his presidency.” Parting from his traditional fawning of the president, current House Speaker Paul Ryan corroborated his legislative peers’ rebukes.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” said Ryan. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Not willing to fully accept his error or admit any ulterior motives, Trump added a bizarre concession in his public attempt at self-correction, telling millions of constituents that election meddling could also have been carried out by forces other than Russia.
“Could be other people also,” Mr. Trump said. “A lot of people out there.”
Staying entirely on brand, Trump also took to Twitter to declare Monday’s Helsinki conference a success, despite the past 48 hours of near-unanimous outrage:
The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2018