House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in a Monday statement that President Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling in the 2016 election during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin proves the Kremlin is using damaging information of some kind to exercise influence over him.
When asked about Russian election meddling during the press conference that followed his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Trump appeared to side with with Russia over his own intelligence community, calling Putin’s denial of responsibility “strong and powerful” before questioning why Russia would interfere in U.S. elections.
“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially or politically,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This is a sad day for America, and for all Western democracies that Putin continues to target.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer condemned Trump’s conduct during the press conference in a slightly more reserved tone than his House counterpart.
“A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States?” Schumer said in a statement. “Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”
The Democratic leaders were joined by a number of prominent Republicans in lashing out at Trump. Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) called the press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” and a “tragic mistake,” while his fellow Arizona republican, Senator Jeff Flake, called it “shameful.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) specifically attacked Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. and Russia are equally responsible for the historically high tensions that define the current relationship.
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” Sasse said of Trump’s comments in a statement released afterward. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
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