US president under fire over poll meddling comments

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There has been a barrage of criticism in the US after President Donald Trump defended Russia over claims of interference in the 2016 elections.

At a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies, saying Russia had no reason to meddle.

The top Republican in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Mr Trump must see that “Russia is not our ally”.

The president’s own intelligence chief publicly broke with him.

Russia is responsible for “ongoing, pervasive attempts” to undermine US democracy, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a statement.

Mr Putin denied the claim.

On Monday the US and Russian presidents held nearly two hours of one-on-one talks without their advisers in the Finnish capital Helsinki .

What did President Trump say?

At a news conference after the summit, he was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to allegations of meddling in the election.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

Mr Trump also blamed poor relations with Russia on past US administrations rather than Russian actions.Media captionTrump: “There was nobody to collude with”

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

Mr Trump later backtracked, tweeting that he had “great confidence in my intelligence people”.

How did it play at home?

Badly. In a strongly worded statement, Mr Ryan said: “There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.

He added that there was “no question” Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election.

Senator John McCain, a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it was a “disgraceful performance”.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” Mr McCain said in a statement.

Another senior Republican, Sen Lindsey Graham, also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted that it was a “missed opportunity… to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling”.

In a series of tweets, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Trump’s actions had “strengthened our adversaries while weakening our defences and those of our allies”.

Former CIA director John Brennan said Mr Trump’s news conference “was nothing short of treasonous”.

“Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Mike Pence defended the summit and praised President Trump.

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