Trump & Putin meet amid rising tensions1:20
Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will have a private four-hour meeting in Helsinki, in what will be one of the most anticipated world summits in years. Here's what's been said already, and what to expect.
LET’S face it, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows.
From the endless cries of “Witch hunt!” and “#FakeNews!” to threats against “Little Rocket Men” about “Big Nuclear Buttons”, it’s not difficult to see why this US President is the social media network’s most prolific user.
But this one — posted shortly before a much-anticipated summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — puts those threats in the shade:
Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
In other words, Mr Trump has suggested his own country should accept responsibility for the tensions and hostility between the United States and Russia right now.
CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza dubbed this the “worst tweet of his presidency”.
“Trump’s wilful ignorance of the fact that Russia actively interfered in the 2016 election is bad enough. His defence of Putin — he says he didn’t do it! — in the face of the unanimous intelligence community conclusion that Russia did, in fact, meddle in our election is even worse,” Cillizza writes.
“But none of those things can match what Trump did Monday morning: Blaming America for a problem Russia created. And not just any problem. An attempt to undermine confidence in fair and free elections, a principle that sits at the heart of what has long distinguished the US from Russia and other authoritarian countries.”
Russia, at least, was thrilled:
We agree https://t.co/7l087Qwmj3— MFA Russia ???? (@mfa_russia) July 16, 2018
Mr Trump faced an immediate backlash for seeming to be unwilling to stand up to Mr Putin.
Senior Republican Senator John McCain deemed the joint press conference “disgraceful” and a “low point” for the US presidency.
“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American presidency,” Mr McCain said in a statement.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Paul Ryan, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives, added: “The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Eventually Mr Trump appeared to back-pedal on the first tweet, noting that he has “great confidence in his intelligence people”, but adding that “the world’s two largest nuclear powers … must get along”.
As I said today and many times before, “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.” 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! #HELSINKI2018— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2018
Despite the backlash, the President has defended the meeting.
“It was a clean campaign, I beat Hillary Clinton easily and frankly … we won that race and it’s a shame there could be a little cloud over it,” he said.
Mr Trump said he and Mr Putin had spent a “great deal of time” talking about the issue and Mr Putin was “strong and powerful in his denials”.
“All I can do is ask the question,” he added.
“There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was no one to collude with.
“We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m President.”
There is no evidence that Mr Trump personally worked with Russia to influence the election outcome.
But a number of Russian nationals and former White House officials have faced charges over their reported links to Russian influencers in the context of the vote, including other Westerners who have been accused of colluding with Russians.
Here they are:
RUSSIAN OFFICERS ACCUSED OF HACKING DEMOCRATS
On Friday, 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged by a US federal grand jury with hacking the Democratic Party’s computer networks in 2016.
The indictment accuses the officers of two key efforts:
• A hacking attack on Democratic computers during the election campaign.
• A plot to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and voter software.
The indictment claims that starting in March 2016, officials monitored the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanted viruses to explore the networks and steal data, and sent phishing emails to gain access to accounts with massive precision.
They also copied folders, including opposition research and field operation plans.
The Russians hid their involvement through fake email addresses and identities and a network of computers located around the world — including in the United States. They paid for their infrastructure using cryptocurrency.
By June 2016, the defendants, relying on fictional personas, began planning the release of tens of thousands of stolen emails, the indictment alleges.
13 RUSSIAN NATIONALS AND THREE COMPANIES
In February this year, 13 Russian citizens were indicted on charges related to a propaganda effort that aimed to interfere with the US election.
Three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency — a notorious Russian troll farm that was accused of disseminating divisive propaganda as far back as 2014 — were indicted in the process.
Mr Mueller alleged that they propagated social media messages, invented fake personals and staged rallies for the purpose of disrupting the US democratic process.
FOUR WHITE HOUSE AIDES CHARGED
Four aides to Mr Trump faced criminal charges late last year based on their reported interactions with Russians.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos both pleaded guilty last year to making false statements when probed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Rick Gates, another former Trump campaign aide, was indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and false statements. He pleaded guilty in February this year to one false statements charge and one conspiracy charge.
Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, was also indicted on similar charges.
Last month, 48-year-old Moscow resident Konstantin Kilimnik was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice.
Alongside Mr Manafort, he was alleged to have “knowingly and intentionally” sought to influence the testimony of two unnamed witnesses who could have been called to testify at Mr Manafort’s trial.
Richard Pinedo, from Santa Paula, California, was charged with selling bank account numbers created using stolen US citizens’ identities to people outside the US.
His charges appear to be related to Russian groups indicted by Mr Mueller that used social media and online advertisements to create propaganda efforts that “primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump”.
Pinedo has agreed to co-operate with Mr Mueller.
ALEX VAN DER ZWAAN
London-based Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his communication with Rick Gates, and another person based in Ukraine.
Surrender Summit: Trump's new low1:05
President Trump has met a new all-time low at the Helsinki summit, by continuing to deny Russia's interference with the presidential campaign.