President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had a great summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, even as he faced a wave of condemnation for siding with Putin's denial that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election rather than the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia had interfered.
"While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia," Trump said on Twitter. "Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy!"
But Speaker Paul Ryan, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and other political colleagues of Trump continued to rebuke the stance he took alongside Putin at a closing news conference at Monday's summit in Helsinki.
"Let's be very clear: Russia meddled in our election," Ryan said.
When asked about election meddling during a joint news conference with Putin Monday, Trump said "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," adding that "President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be."
A wide array of Republican and Democratic lawmakers condemned Trump's position, calling it embarrassing, a disgrace and shameful. Late-night comics on U.S. television skewered Trump for failing to stand up to his "boss" Putin in their face-to-face talks.
A Washington Post editorial headline said, "Trump just colluded with Russia. Openly," while The New York Times asked, "Why Won’t Donald Trump Speak for America? The president lays himself at Vladimir Putin’s feet." The tabloid New York Post front-page headline said, "See No Evil: Prez gives big Bear hug to wicked BFF Vlad, jabs US intel."
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was one of the few Republican colleagues of Trump who came to his defense, saying, “The President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations — what’s he supposed to think?”
In another Twitter comment Tuesday, Trump said, "Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!"
Trump also said, "I had a great meeting with NATO" last week that preceded his talks with Putin. "They have paid $33 Billion more and will pay hundreds of Billions of Dollars more in the future, only because of me. NATO was weak, but now it is strong again (bad for Russia). The media only says I was rude to leaders, never mentions the money!"
Paul told CNN in a Tuesday interview, "Any country that can spy does, and any country that can meddle in foreign elections does. All countries are doing this, but we've elevated this to a higher degree, and we've made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election, and it's all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this."
As criticism mounted in the hours after his comments at a news conference alongside Putin echoed throughout the world, Trump defended himself with tweets as he flew back to Washington.
"As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,'" Trump said. "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!"
He added, "I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world."
Some political commentators and Democratic critics of Trump called on his key national security aides to quit in the face of the president saying that he had "confidence" in both Putin and the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, asked in a Twitter comment, "If you're on the Trump national security team, and you've been out there saying how strong Trump is on Russia and how serious our commitment is to NATO, how do you not resign after the last four days?" There was no indication, however, that any of Trump's key aides planned to quit.
Anthony Scaramucci, who briefly served as the Trump's White House communications director last year, told CNN, "Trump's made a very big mistake here. He's got to reverse course immediately."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, another Trump supporter, said, "I don't know what the president's mental calculation was in giving Putin a pass. But there's no question in my mind that Putin was responsible" for interfering in the election.