Republicans and Democrats alike are dismayed by President Trump’s comments at his joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Monday. Mr. Trump stunned onlookers by repeatedly defending Putin during the press conference from allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and casting doubt on conclusions to that effect made by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Ari Fleischer, a Republican and prominent Trump defender who served as former President George W. Bush’s press secretary, said that while he still does not believe Mr. Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 elections, he understands now why people think he’s being blackmailed.
“I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why [Democrats] think Putin must have the goods on him,” Fleischer tweeted.
In a series of tweets after the press conference, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ally of Mr. Trump, called the meeting with Putin a “missed opportunity” that would be perceived by “weakness” by Russia. Graham also said that, if it were up to him, the soccer ball Putin gave Mr. Trump would be checked for “listening devices” and never be taken into the White House.
Retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, one of, called the press conference “shameful.”
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, a sometime critic of Mr. Trump, took issue with the president’s claim that the U.S. is in part to blame for the state of Russo-American relations. Following up on a tweet he posted early Monday morning, Mr. Trump said at the press conference that he holds “both countries responsible” for tensions between the nuclear powers.
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” Sasse said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was more circumspect in his comments, but said Mr. Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” Ryan said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. 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.”
Democrats also criticized Mr. Trump’s performance. John O. Brennan, who ran the CIA under President Obama, called Mr. Trump’s comments at the press conference “nothing short of treasonous.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous,” Brennan tweeted. “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
And Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the press conference proves “that the Russians have something on” Mr. Trump.
“President Trump’s weakness in front of Putin was embarrassing, and proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially or politically,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This is a sad day for America, and for all Western democracies that Putin continues to target.”
© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.