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Trump-Putin Summit: 'I Am Saddened By What I Saw Today,' Former NATO Commander Says09:34
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President Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photograph at the beginning of a one-on-one meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photograph at the beginning of a one-on-one meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
This article is more than 2 years old.

In a joint press conference in Helsinki on Monday, President Trump failed to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials that his country interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson discusses the summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin with retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis (@stavridisj), dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and former supreme allied commander of NATO.

While he was disappointed that Trump refused to contradict Putin’s denials, Stavridis says he was not surprised by the president’s actions.

“I think it played out entirely to form, which is our president giving a pass to Russia in a variety of different settings on a variety of different issues,” he says. “I think President Putin managed it perfectly, manipulated our president.”

Interview Highlights

On his reaction to the Trump-Putin press conference

“Well, I was astonished to be honest with you. The thing that really struck me as someone who fought the Cold War — was part of, if you will, winning the Cold War — to see now an American president stand next to a Russian president with our flags in the backdrop and hear the American president denigrate, disavow and walk away from our intelligence community and effectively give the president of Russia a free pass on well-documented interference in U.S. elections was shocking. That's the only word I can use.

“Also let's look at body language, always so important. Go back and look at the two leaders walking into that conference. You see Vladimir Putin smiling and swaggering as he typically does, full of buoyancy and energy. And you saw the president of the United States kind of trailing along with a somber, sober look on his face like someone who's going to be led into the punishment arena. It was not a good day for the U.S. presidency.”

On if Trump could have publicly contradicted Putin’s denials

“I think any other U.S. president in American history would have done so, would have only taken the meeting with Putin in order to put Putin on the stage alongside him or her, turn to Putin and say, ‘I don't believe you, and I have my entire intelligence community has documented this to a fare-thee-well, and that's why we have indicted senior intelligence professionals in the Russian Federation.' He chose not to do that. Instead, when he was asked that question, he started rambling on about email servers, and where are Hillary's 33,000 emails? With all due respect to Secretary Clinton, Hillary who? At this point, this is about our current president. He needs to deal with these issues in real time.”

"[Trump] becomes like a high school soccer player being dropped in the middle of a World Cup match going up against somebody like Vladimir Putin who is highly skilled in all of this."

James Stavridis

On Trump’s attacks on Democrats in response to Putin’s denials

“There are two elements here … that are distressing. The first is the division this will continue to sow in the United States because there will be those who continue to believe President Trump, despite the fact that all of the intelligence agencies of the United States are in complete concurrence, including political appointees who have been placed by Donald Trump. So there's domestic division, and the other is international division between the United States and our allies. Think about how this plays when our allies — who have just come from a whipping session by Donald Trump in Brussels, and the European Union has been called the top of my list of foes of the United States — now watch the president effectively be very cozy and coy alongside the president of Russia who gets much better treatment than our very best allies. So big divisions domestically and internationally. Neither are helpful.”

On the likelihood that Trump is an intelligence asset to Putin and the Russian spy agency

“There certainly will be people who believe that. Personally, I think that is far-fetched. I would say nothing is impossible in this world we're living in. What I think is more likely is that we have a president who is unprepared, unwilling to invest in real preparation for these meetings, won't take his team in with him to the meeting, and from, essentially hubris, wants to demonstrate that he and he alone is at the center of everything. By doing all of that, he becomes like a high school soccer player being dropped in the middle of a World Cup match going up against somebody like Vladimir Putin who is highly skilled in all of this. I think between deep conspiracy and an asset of Russia, and simple incompetence on the part of our president, I'm going to go for the latter.”

"It is better to have a good relationship with Russia, certainly. Here's how I would formulate it: We should confront where we must and cooperate where we can."

James Stavridis

On the U.S. and Russia working together in Syria

“I think that would be the most likely place we could actually cooperate with Russia. If you look back to the Balkans 20 years ago … eventually we solved that terrible series of wars and humanitarian crises by cooperation between Russia, the United States and our NATO partners. I think that model could work in Syria, and I would, for one, be hopeful that Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo can meet with Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, his foreign counterpart, and move forward on Syria. But … the sticking point will be Russia's support for a primal-scream war criminal in the form of Bashar al-Assad. However, that is a place we could possibly see some cooperation.”

On if the U.S. should have a good relationship with Russia

“It is better to have a good relationship with Russia, certainly. Here's how I would formulate it: We should confront where we must and cooperate where we can. So we have to confront on the interference in our election. We have to confront on … the invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. We have to confront on Assad's war criminality. But we should cooperate where we can: counternarcotics, counterterrorism, counterpiracy, potentially on arms control, perhaps eventually on Syria. So we should confront where we must, cooperate where we can. But the president seems to have forgotten the first part of that. The confrontation has to occur.”

On Trump’s failure to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea

“I feel here again the president missed a chance to formally condemn what is without question a violation of international law and one that the entire world has condemned. Russia has crossed a border with armed troops and carved out a chunk of another sovereign nation that if allowed to stand as is, is a serious blow to the international order that we all need, if we're going to maintain global prosperity.”

On the impact of Trump’s meeting with Putin on NATO

“It hurts our relationship deeply because it plays to form from the previous G-7 conference in Charlevoix, Canada, which was a scene of President Trump denigrating all of our closest economic partners, and then turning around and embracing a totalitarian dictator, Kim Jong Un. Now we see the exact same thing. Our greatest military partners in the world, our NATO allies, being denigrated by the president about defense spending. There is some validity to that, but the style of it, the acrimony of it, hurt us deeply in the present, and it will weaken NATO going forward. Again, a bad set of outcomes for the nation.”

This segment aired on July 16, 2018.

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