After President Trump's and President Vladimir Putin's one-on-one meeting and conference in Finland on Monday, the two leaders took questions from a room full of American and international reporters. The buzz around the summit, especially speculation about Trump's allegiance to Putin, reached a fever pitch when Trump refused to side with American intelligence agencies to admit that the Russian government had a hand in tipping the 2016 presidential election. In a reaction and analysis discussion following the conference, CNN's Anderson Cooper called Trump's presser a "disgraceful performance."
"You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly that I've ever seen," he said. "An extraordinary press conference."
Toward the end of the press conference, an American reporter addressed Trump, saying, "Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did [meddle in the 2016 election]... Who do you believe?" He continued, "Would you now, with the whole world watching... denounce what happened in 2016, and would you warn [President Putin] to never do it again?"
Trump's response was rambling and full of uncertainties, never actually landing on a culprit for the election interference. The intelligence community "said they think it’s Russia," Trump said. "I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be."
Trump also returned to two Twitter-rant favorites, asking why the DNC refused to hand its servers over to the FBI, and where Hillary Clinton's missing personal emails went. "I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily," he said of the emails.
These two arguments have been widely debunked by intelligence officials and media outlets alike. Following the DNC hack, the FBI examined an exact copy of the server's data (like copying your hard drive), which, given that Russian hackers never accessed the physical server, was an appropriate action, according to former FBI director James Comey. Either way, this would not have caused the FBI to falsely blame Russian hackers for someone else's meddling in the election — the technical evidence supporting special counsel Robert Mueller's indictments is overwhelming.
Clinton's deleted emails, while an issue of public transparency, are similarly unrelated to the hacking of her campaign chair, John Podesta, and the DNC.
Ultimately, even though the White House has previously admitted that Russia is to blame for the 2016 election interference, while standing next to Putin on Monday, the most Trump managed was to sit on the fence. "I have confidence in both parties," he said.
Many Americans view Trump's admiration for Putin problematic, and just as they feared, Trump again took the opportunity to lavish praise on the Russian leader. "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," he said.
"He blinked," Cooper said in his reaction to the president's answer.
The admiring words and eagerness Trump showed to come to Putin's defense during Monday's summit, which came just days after Mueller released another 12 indictments of Russian nationals, was in stark contrast to last week's NATO conference during which Trump repeatedly lashed out at European allies for not further increasing their military spending budgets.
Critics argue that Trump is playing into Putin's agenda by sowing discord among Western European allied powers, and now by defending him against Trump's own intelligence agencies for actions that are widely recognized as destabilizing American democracy.
During the press conference, Trump promised that the strained relationship between Russia and the United States had been vastly improved by the summit discussions. Asked whether he blamed Russia for the tension, he reverted to his both-sides rhetoric. "Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible," he said. "I think the United States has been foolish. … I think we’re all to blame."