The leaders met Monday in Helsinki for a summit hailed as a “very good start” by Trump. Putin and Trump had fiery responses to questions over Russia’s alleged role in the election in a press conference following their summit.
“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said, later adding he doesn’t see “any reason why” Russia would interfere.
The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States — and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea — for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations.
WATCH: Trump says there was ‘nobody to collude with’ during the election
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, blaming “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump’s tweet and then replying: “We agree.”
Trump also called Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter a “disaster for our country” during the Helsinki press conference.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers, and former government staff, slammed the president following the news conference, with some saying he committed treason.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer urged Republicans to take action following Trump’s speech.
WATCH: Chuck Schumer calls on Republicans to take action against Trump
“The president sided with Vladimir Putin’s denial over the unanimous, unanimous conclusion from the United States intelligence community. He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA,” Sen. Schumer said.
It’s time for Trump to sit down for an interview with Mueller, Schumer said.
“We need answers, we need them now.”
Republican Sen. John McCain said the news conference was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
WATCH: Trump calls Mueller investigation ‘a disaster for our country’
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” the Republican said. “Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are — a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”
Fellow Republican and head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker said Trump made the U.S. look like a “pushover.”
“When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency that he gave between them and what Putin was saying,” he said. “The president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover and I was disappointed in that.”
WATCH: Senator Corker says Trump’s comments during Putin meeting made U.S. look like a ‘pushover’
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake called Trump’s actions “shameful.”
“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. This is shameful,” Flake tweeted.
Republican colleague Lindsey Graham said Trump missed an opportunity “to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling.”
“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” he tweeted.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said the president’s trip “has just been one giant middle finger” to the U.S.
“This entire trip has just been one giant middle finger from President Trump to his own country. Just jaw dropping,” he tweeted.
“This is a sad, shameful moment for our great nation,” Tim Kaine tweeted.
Former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump’s news conference “was nothing short of treasonous.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous,” he tweeted. “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Putin, speaking through an interpreter, once again denied what he described as “so-called interference of Russia.” He called it “nonsense” and insisted the Russian state had never interfered and would never interfere in the American electoral process.
After criticism started coming in, Trump tweeted that he did agree with U.S. intelligence, but wanted to move forward instead of focusing on the past.
“As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!” he wrote.
—with a file from the Associated Press
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