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Damage Control: WH Stresses Trump’s Past Acceptance of Russian Meddling after Helsinki Presser

President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington, D.C. from Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Seeking to constrain the fallout from President Trump’s widely maligned press conference with Vladimir Putin, the White House stressed his past acceptance of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered with the 2016 election in talking points distributed to congressional Republicans Monday evening.

Trump sparked an unprecedented level of criticism from his congressional opponents and allies alike by appearing to endorse Vladimir Putin’s denial of Kremlin election meddling during the post-summit presser. In response, the White House distributed talking points to congressional Republicans casting the meeting as a positive development for U.S.-Russia relations and emphasizing Trump’s past acceptance of the intelligence-community consensus of Russian culpability.

“For over a year and half, the President has repeatedly said he believes [sic] the intelligence agencies when they said Russia interfered in American elections,” read the talking points, first obtained by CNN. “President Trump isn’t going to let an excessive focus on the past get in the way of building a brighter future between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.”

The emailed memo goes on to detail the virtues of, and historical precedent for, continued dialogue between the two leaders.

“The Helsinki summit is part of a long tradition of diplomacy of dialogue between the United States and Russia,” the email read. “It is in the interest of both countries to have constructive conversations and the Helsinki Summit was only the beginning of a longer process.”

Consummate Trump critics such as Arizona senators senators John McCain and Jeff Flake attacked the president after the press conference, calling his refusal to forcefully condemn Putin “shameful” and “disgraceful.” They were joined in their criticism by Trump allies in Congress and the media, such as Speaker Paul Ryan and a number of Fox News hosts, who employed a more reserved tone in cautioning Trump against accepting Putin’s denial over the word of his own intelligence agencies.

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