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Trump officials embarrassed by Putin show

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President Trump sucking up to Vladimir Putin after the summit in Helsinki yesterday was such an unbelievable, indelible moment that many deflated White House officials didn’t even bother to defend or explain it:
A former senior White House official, who worked closely with Trump, immediately texted Swan: “Need a shower.” – reported Axios (US).

One of Trump's own former National Security Council officials texted: “Dude. This is a total [effing] disgrace. The President has lost his mind."

CBS "Face the Nation" anchor Margaret Brennan, who was in the audience, told AP she was messaging some U.S. officials during the speech who said they were turning off the television.
The prevailing theory among Trump aides and alumni is pretty simple: "He can’t separate meddling from colluding," said one source close to Trump. "He can’t publicly express any nuanced view because he thinks it concedes maybe there's something he did wrong."

Trump has, at times, privately conceded that Russia probably hacked. But the minute the word “election” comes up in conversation, his brain shifts into an attack mode that throws U.S. intelligence out the window and delights Putin.

The source added: "His P.R. and legal strategy right now is to impugn the FBI in order to inoculate himself from the Mueller investigation writ large."

Jonathan Swan — who was sitting 20 feet from Putin, in the second row of the ballroom in Helsinki — reports that the Russian leader smirked his way through the questioning over election interference, puffing and thrusting his chest at U.S. reporters.

Trump nodded along at times. When the two leaders walked out from under the golden glass chandelier and left the room, they left a speechless press corps.
The journalists were questioning whether we actually heard what they heard: The president of the United States was putting the methodical assessments of his own country’s intelligence services on an equal footing with the denials of one of America’s most underhanded enemies.

Trump said: "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that 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."

Why it matters ... Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the Pentagon and CIA, told Brian Williams on MSNBC: "Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. Today's Donald Trump lost the post-Cold War for the United States of America."

The shell shock in the room was a preview of the global reaction:

From a front-page N.Y. Times analysis by White House correspondent Mark Landler: "His statements were so divorced from American policy goals, so at odds with the rest of his administration, so inexplicable on so many levels that they brought to the surface a question that has long shadowed Mr. Trump: Does Russia have something on him?"

Anchors and commentators, who already had become loose with their language, became untethered from journalistic norms, just as Trump had abandoned presidential norms. On CNN, Anderson Cooper called the performance "disgraceful" and Chris Cuomo called it "a betrayal."

The #1 "Most Popular" piece on NYTimes.com last night was a column by Thomas Friedman, who's no partisan hack, declaring "overwhelming evidence that our president ... is ... engaged in treasonous behavior."

Friedman added: "Every single Republican lawmaker will be — and should be — asked on the election trail: Are you with Trump and Putin or are you with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A.?"
N.Y. Times Qu0te of the Day ... Sen. John McCain: "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Trump friends and allies, who often avert their gaze from his outbursts, made it clear that he's on his own for this one:

Newt Gingrich, one of the most vocal Trump backers among establishment Republicans, tweeted: "President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately."
Republican congressional leaders said they believe the intelligence community.
Drudge, usually a Trump champion, bannered: "PUTIN DOMINATES IN HEL."

Future foretold: It’s highly unlikely any top White House officials will quit in protest; inconceivable congressional Republicans will do anything other than complain (mostly gently) in public; and unimaginable Trump will regret or rethink his pro-Putin approach.

***

President Trump said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has "driven a wedge between us and Russia" following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reported Fox News (US).

"Maybe we’ve just knocked down that wedge, but it has driven a wedge and President Putin said that," Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity in an exclusive interview. "One of the early things he said when we started was, 'It's really a shame, because we could do so much good' ... And they drove a phony wedge, it's a phony witch hunt, rigged deal with guys like [FBI agent] Peter Strzok and [former FBI Director] James Comey and [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew] McCabe ... and you can imagine who else. It's a real shame."

Monday's summit took place three days after a grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence operatives on charges related to cyberattacks on Democratic organizations during the 2016 election campaign. At a news conference following the meeting, Putin offered to have Russian prosecutors question the indicted operatives and added that Mueller's team of investigators could be present for questioning, if U.S. officials would "reciprocate."

Trump told Hannity he was "fascinated" by Putin's suggestion, but then appeared to dismiss it, saying that the special counsel's team "probably won't want to go."

"The 13 angry Democrats? You think they're going to want to go? I don't think so," said Trump, using one of his usual phrases to describe Mueller's investigators.

On 'Hannity,' President Trump takes Americans inside his meeting with the Russian president. The president says he and Putin are getting very close on Syria and discussed the threat of ISIS.
The president added that the Russian leader was "incensed even talking about" the indictments and pointed out that Putin "said there was absolutely no collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.

"I think it's a shame ... we're talking about all of these different things and we get questions on the witch hunt," Trump said. "And I don’t think the people out in the country buy it, but the reporters like to give it a shot. I thought that President Putin was very, very strong."

In an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, Putin said he was "not interested" in the Mueller investigation, calling it part of "the internal political games of the United States."

Trump told Hannity that he and Putin had "a very long meeting and it was a good meeting."

"It was just the two of us and interpreters," Trump said, "and at the end of this meeting, I think we really came to a lot of good conclusions."

He continued, "I think we’re doing really well with Russia as of today. I thought we were doing horribly before today ... I think we really had a potential problem."

The president said the biggest issue between Russia and the United States has been nuclear proliferation, pointing out how the two countries account for "90 percent" of the world's nuclear weapons "and we've had a phony, witch hunt deal drive us apart."

"I know President Obama said global warming is our biggest problem, and I would say that no, it’s nuclear warming is our biggest problem by a factor of about five million," Trump said. "The nuclear problem ... we have to be very careful."

The president added that Putin told him "he wants to be very helpful with North Korea." However, Trump said: "We’re doing well with North Korea [so] we have time. There’s no rush, it has been going on for many years.

"You know, we got our hostages back, there’s been no testing, there’s been no nuclear explosions … there’s been no rockets going over Japan, no missiles going over Japan [for] nine months and the relationship is very good, you saw the nice letter [Kim Jong Un] wrote," Trump said. "And so, I think a lot of good things are happening. But President Putin is very much into making that all happen."

Trump also criticized the media coverage of his conduct at last week's NATO summit in Brussels, where he raised concerns about other members of the alliance not honoring their pledges to spend two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on the military.

"The media was very unfair," he said. "I raised $44 billion and the secretary general [of NATO] said, 'He raised $44 billion and it was only President Trump,' because I said, 'Otherwise, we're going to have to start thinking about our relationship to NATO.' I also said this: NATO is wonderful, but it helps Europe a lot more than it helps us. And yet we’re paying for 90 percent of it.

President Trump holds historic summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland; reaction and analysis on 'The Five.'
"So, I was amazed [that] much of the media said that I was tough – very tough and nasty to foreign leaders and I really wasn’t at all. But I did say, 'You have to pay up,'" Trump added.

The president later returned to the Russia investigation, slamming Strzok over his testimony before House lawmakers last week and calling him a "total phony."

"It's a very dishonest deal and, you know, you have to find out, who did Peter Strzok report to, because it was Comey and it was McCabe, but it was also probably Obama," said Trump. "[Strzok is] a disgrace to our country. He’s a disgrace to the great FBI. A disgrace. And how he’s still being paid is beyond belief."

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