In the last post, we looked at the contextual background that led to the high anticipation in the meeting of Presidents Trump and Putin. In today’s post, we look at the Joint Press Conference held in Helsinki (Helsinki Conference); and the media furor that has followed since. Read on to know more!
What happened at the Helsinki Conference?
President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin met on July 16th (Monday) to discuss the relations between US and Russia. This was a one-on-one meeting between the two followed by a Joint Press Conference. Jennie Neufeld of Vox described the meeting as:
The press conference that followed was striking. Asked to denounce Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump changed the subject to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump refused, despite being asked multiple times, to criticize Putin, blamed the US for tensions with Russia, and repeatedly criticized the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia in 2016.
A transcript of the entire conference is available here.
Main Points to take home from the Helsinki Conference
- One of the main questions was whether President Putin had any incriminating evidence against President Trump. President Trump denied having compromising material on Trump during his Russian visit in 2013. He explained by stating that he did not even know that the President was in Moscow.
- When President Putin was asked if he wanted President Trump to win, he answered the question with an emphatic yes. He wanted Trump to win as “he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationships back to normal.”
- On the Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election, President Trump condemned his own Intelligence Agencies. He blamed Robert Mueller’s investigation for driving the two nations apart.
- When asked about the involvement of the Russian government in the 2016 US Elections, President Trump said he believed President Putin’s strong denial. Which meant that he put the words of Russian President Putin’s at a higher platform than those reported by his Intelligence Agencies after months of research.
- President Trump took Russia’s offer to help interrogate the 12 Russian intelligence officers who have been indicted for hacking positively. He described the gesture as an incredible offer.
The whole Joint Press Conference showed that the balance of power was tilted in favor of President Putin. While he talked about specific topics such as Syria, oil and gas, or even terrorism; President Trump concentrated his efforts on distancing himself from the US – Russia collusion probe.
Here is a small extract of what President Trump said during the Helsinki Conference:
I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone — just gone.
I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails. So 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. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay thank you.
People in America aren’t pleased with how the Joint Conference proceeded. Having indicted the 12 Russian hackers only a week prior, many expected a stronger stance on the possibility of Russian interference in the elections. But President Trump’s jovial attitude towards President Putin along with his dismissal of the US Intelligence reports, all on a public platform, have sparked intense outrage.
What is different this time is that President Trump is being criticized for his actions even by Republicans. Words such as “disgraceful”, “disservice” and “tragic mistake” were used to describe the meeting.
President Trump’s Reaction post the Furor
After noticing the immense backlash by US citizens, President Trump backtracked. He tried to make his stance more palatable to the American audience by adding a double negative sentence. But that wouldn’t be enough to “correct” his direct quotes doubting the US Intelligence that he made on numerous occasion.
New York Times wrote this about his changing stance:
“My people came to me,” he said Monday in Helsinki, Finland. “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
On Tuesday, he said that he had misspoken. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative,” Mr. Trump said. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good.”
He also insisted that he has “on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.” He did not mention the far greater number of occasions on which he has sown doubt about whether Russia meddled.
Mr. Trump also did not retract or explain his withering attack on the F.B.I. and the Justice Department for investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia. He did not withdraw his assertion, standing next to Mr. Putin, that the Russian leader had offered an “extremely strong and powerful” denial of involvement during their two-and-a-half-hour meeting. And he did not amend his answer to a question about whether he believed Mr. Putin or officials like Dan Coats, his director of national intelligence.
But in true Trump fashion, he then went back to his original stance, claiming that the meeting with Putin had been successful. Those criticizing the Helsinki Conference were labelled as being afflicted with the “Trump Derangement Syndrome”. When he was asked directly about whether the Russians were targeting US, he said no. This is contrary to what Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence stated about the Russian involvement.
What does this mean?
Continuing with his contradictory trend, on 20th July, Sarah Sanders announced that President Trump hopes to welcome Putin in Washington in fall. Discussions in furtherance of the said meeting are now underway.
The whole debacle makes one doubt whether Russia/ President Putin have any incriminating material against President Trump. This would explain President Trump being used and manipulated by the Russians. Alternatively, it could also point towards a collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The denial of the findings by the US Intelligence on an international platform and supporting Russia’s denial as true has undermined people’s confidence in President Trump.
We can only wait and watch to see how the US-Russian relations “improve” from here on forward.