Trump deflected direct questions about Russia’s role in the 2016 elections, and declined to denounce Russia for interference when asked. Instead, he seemed to praise Putin. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Trump said.
Trump also boasted about the margin of his election victory over Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee whom polls favored to win; reiterating his claim that the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s actions and possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia was a “witch hunt” directed at him; and asking why the FBI “never took the [hacked] server” belonging to the Democratic National Committee.
“I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I do not think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server,” he said, adding: “Where are those servers? They are missing. What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails, 30,000 emails …. just gone. In Russia they would not be gone so easily. It is a disgrace we cannot get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”
The news conference capped a week of drama that led up to Monday’s summit meeting in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, between Trump and Putin. The meeting occurred just days after the U.S. Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers who are alleged to have hacked emails and computers of senior Democratic party officials in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The indictments, which are part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian hacking of the election, led to calls mainly from Democratic lawmakers for Trump to cancel his summit meeting with Putin.
But the U.S. president pressed ahead, reiterating his goal of improved relations with Russia. “Getting along with Russia is a good thing not a bad thing,” he said Monday ahead of his one-on-one meeting with Putin, who was seated beside him. That meeting was scheduled to last 45 minutes, but went on for more than two hours. Putin arrived more than 30 minutes late.
Trump said they discussed a “wide range of critical issues,” including Russia’s alleged interference, but bemoaned the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations, which he had blamed earlier in the day on “U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Russia’s Foreign Ministry concurred with that assessment on Twitter, replying: “We agree.”
When asked at the news conference if he believed that Russia played any role in the state of U.S.-Russia relations, Trump replied: “I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish… I think we are all to blame.”
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now,” Trump said at the news conference. “However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.”