CAPITOL HILL - U.S. lawmakers of both political parties reacted with shock and dismay on Monday after President Donald Trump failed to support the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian election meddling during a joint news conference with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said in a statement. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on our democracy.”
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, said, “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, said Trump’s comments made America look like “a pushover” and that “this was not a good moment for our country.”
Corker added that Putin “gained a lot [from Trump's words] … I would guess he’s having caviar right now.”
Democrats were equally blunt in their assessments.
“The president sided with Vladimir Putin’s denial over the unanimous, unanimous conclusion of the United States intelligence community,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of a New York said in a news conference. “He took the word of the KGB over the men and women of the CIA.”
Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly tweeted: “Trump has taken on a new job: spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.”
Breaking news: Trump has taken on a new job: spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.— Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) July 16, 2018
Response to criticism
Hours after the news conference, Trump appeared to respond to the criticism.
“As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,’” the president tweeted. “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!”
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! #HELSINKI2018— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence did not address the furor over Trump’s comments, but said of the summit, “Disagreements between our countries were discussed at length, and what the world saw, and the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.”
Dan Coats, Trump’s national intelligence director, said in a statement, “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
The Trump-Putin summit came days after the special counsel in the Justice Department’s Russia probe indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for cyberhacks of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee.
At the Helsinki news conference, Trump branded special counsel Robert Mueller’s 14-month investigation of Russian election interference and links to the president’s inner circle “a disaster for our country.”
A longtime Republican critic of Trump, retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, said, “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.”
Some Republicans took issue with Trump’s assertions without criticizing him personally.
“I disagree with the president’s comments,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California said in a statement. “As we approach the November [U.S.] midterm elections, it is critical that Putin understand he will pay a steep price for any further interference in our democratic process.”
Schumer demanded Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of Congress, take a stronger stance.
WATCH: US-Russia summit reactions
?"Where are the Republicans who know in their heart the president is giving away the store to Vladimir Putin?" the minority leader asked. "Our Republican colleagues can take steps right now to push back against this slippery slope the president has put us on. … Talk is not enough, we need action, bipartisan strong action."
Schumer demanded a ratcheting up of U.S. sanctions against Russia, testimony before Congress by national security officials who accompanied Trump to Finland, bipartisan support for the Mueller probe, and pressure on the White House to demand Russia extradite the 12 indicted intelligence officers to the United States.
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said Putin was a threat to interfere in November’s congressional elections in the U.S.
“The president”s refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all,” Nelson said. “The president’s unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing.”
Former U.S. intelligence officials also registered their opinions.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under former President Barack Obama, told CNN, “The president of the United States essentially capitulated and seemed intimidated by Vladimir Putin. It was amazing and very disturbing.”
Former CIA director John Brennan took to Twitter to call Trump’s Helsinki comments “imbecilic,” adding that the president “is wholly in the pocket of Putin.
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.