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Former Trump aide says he canceled CNN appearance over 'atrocious' Helsinki coverage

Former National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said on Monday that he canceled a scheduled appearance on CNN because of the network's "atrocious" coverage of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE's joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CNN host Erin Burnett said on her show "OutFront" Monday night that Anton had declined to appear on the program, because he "could not defend the president" — a claim that Anton rebuffed in a statement to The Hill. 

"From the moment President Trump's press conference ended, CNN's coverage was atrocious and histrionic," Anton said in an email. "I did cancel, because I knew that whatever I said, CNN would try to use me as a cudgel with which to bash the President. I support President Trump and I never want to be misused as an instrument to undermine him or his administration."

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"As soon as CNN was informed of my withdrawal, they threatened to cite that withdrawal on air to bash the President," he continued. "And that's exactly what they did. It's clear I made the right decision."

Anton left the White House shortly after national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who was eventually replaced with John Bolton.

In a joint press conference following a highly anticipated summit with Putin in Helsinki on Monday, Trump challenged the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, citing the Russian leader's "incredibly strong and powerful" denial of the claim.

He said that, despite what he had been told from top intelligence officials, he saw "see any reason why" Russia would interfere in the election.

"They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia," Trump said.

Trump's comments amounted to an extraordinary break from his own administration, which just last week charged 12 Russian officials with hacking Democratic servers during the 2016 presidential race.

Instead of taking a hard line on the issue of election interference during his news conference with Putin, Trump decried what he called the "ridiculous" special counsel probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia that had driven a wedge between the two countries.

The remarks drew criticism from across the partisan spectrum, with Republicans and Democrats alike admonishing Trump for rebuking his own intelligence agencies and placing blame on the U.S. for current tensions with Russia.

"There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals," House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) said in a statement. "The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."