Facing continued backlash over his comments at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his attempt to clarify them, President Trump on Wednesday accused his critics of being “haters” who wanted to see his diplomatic efforts fail.
“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia,” Trump tweeted. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”
The tweet mirrored comments by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who expressed support for Trump’s embrace of Putin while dismissing his many critics.
“I think there’s a bit of Trump derangement syndrome,” Paul said on CNN Monday. “It is a good idea to have engagement … but these people hate Trump so much, all of that is being lost.”
At their joint press conference in Helsinki on Monday, Trump stunned observers by saying he doesn’t believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, appearing to side with Putin over the conclusions of all his own U.S. intelligence officials.
“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
The comments drew sharp bipartisan condemnation.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement released shortly after the summit. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
“America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a written statement. “When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
“President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin,” former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted. “It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.”
At the White House Tuesday, Trump claimed that he misspoke and that he meant to say the opposite of what he said. “I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” the president explained while reading from prepared remarks. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good.”
The walk-back came 28 hours after his initial comment in Helsinki and following two interviews with Fox News in which Trump never mentioned the flub. White House communications staff also didn’t correct his initial statement.
Trump said Tuesday that he accepts the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russian operatives had meddled in the election, but quickly added that it “could be other people also — a lot of people out there.”
On Wednesday, the president claimed on Twitter that “so many” unnamed top intelligence officials “loved” his diplomatic turn in Finland.
“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump tweeted. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”
Trump insisted the summit with Putin “may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success” than his efforts last week at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s annual summit in Brussels, where he accused Germany of being held “captive” by Russia and decried U.S. allies for not contributing more to military spending.
While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 18, 2018
According to Trump, Russia “has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along.”
Hours after his statement to reporters Tuesday, Trump returned to a familiar refrain.
“The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!” the president tweeted.
Read more from Yahoo News:
- Trump says he believes Putin that Russia didn’t interfere in election
- ‘#SurrenderSummit’: Critics decry Trump’s ‘disgraceful’ performance
- Under fire, Trump says he ‘misspoke’ about Russian interference
- Obama deplores leaders who lie with ‘utter loss of shame’
- Trump and Putin: The admiration is mutual, the benefits one-sided