President Trump on Monday stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin and rejected the findings of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election, drawing bipartisan blowback from lawmakers dismayed by his performance on the world stage.
At a joint press conference after their summit in Helsinki, Mr. Trump declined to publicly rebuke Mr. Putin for election hacking and failed to admonish Russia’s invasion of Crimea, poisoning of opponents on British soil and fueling bloodshed in Ukraine and Syria.
The White House said many of the topics were addressed behind closed doors.
In public, Mr. Trump vouched for the former KGB officer’s claim that Russia didn’t meddle in the election and called Mr. Putin’s denials “extremely strong and powerful.”
“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” said Mr. Trump. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.”
Mr. Trump added, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia.
He blamed both the U.S. and Russia for conflicts between the two countries and specifically pointed to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation for poisoning the relationship.
The summit was held just days after Mr. Mueller’s team handed up indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking email at the Democratic National Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
Democrats and Republicans called on the president to pressure Mr. Putin to extradite the 12 intelligence officers....Mr. Putin had another idea. He advised Mr. Mueller to formally ask Moscow to detain and interrogate the indicted spies.“We want to hold a questioning of these individuals who he believes are privy to some crimes,” said Mr. Putin. “And our law enforcement are perfectly able to do this questioning and send the appropriate materials to the United States.”As an alternative, he offered to meet Mr. Mueller halfway and allow him to go to Russia to conduct the interviews.“Options abound,” said Mr. Putin.By siding with Mr. Putin, the president drew fire from both sides of the political divide in Washington.Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mr. Putin was the “real victor” at the summit.Sen. Christopher A. Coons, a Delaware Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Trump’s conduct was “a historic failure of leadership that will have lasting consequences for national and global security.”Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic candidate for president in 2020, said Mr. Trump failed to stand up for America.“He embraced our No. 1 adversary, blamed America rather than Russian aggression for the deterioration in our bilateral relations, trashed his own justice department and put Putin’s word above that of our own intelligence community whose leaders he appointed,” he said.House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said there is “no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine