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Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference

Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference
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THE TOPLINE: Washington was reeling Monday after President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE's bizarre and stunning press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day.

During the press conference, which capped off the two leaders' summit in Helsinki, Trump refused to denounce Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, siding with Putin over the U.S. intelligence community.

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

"I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump added. "So, I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."

Trump also recapped his election win, reiterated his complaints that the FBI had not examined servers belonging to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Closing message for Democrats Election Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP mocks Clinton after minor vehicle collision outside Mendendez campaign event MORE's campaign, referenced a conspiracy theory involving a former House Democratic staffer and mentioned Clinton's allegedly "missing" emails -- the same ones he encouraged Russian hackers to find during the election.

Putin's denials: For his part, Putin used the press conference to deny Russia interfered in the election.

"I had to reiterate things I said several times, including during our personal contacts, that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs including election process," Putin said through a translator. "Any specific material, if such things arise, we are ready to analyze together."

He also denied having any compromising information on Trump or his family, saying he did not even know when Trump was in Moscow in the past.

"Let's take St. Petersburg Economic Forum, for instance. There were over 500 American businessmen, high-ranking, high-level ones," Putin said. "Do you think that we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them? Well, it's difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this."

"Well, please, just disregard these issues and don't think about this anymore again," he added.

One thing Putin didn't deny? That he preferred Trump over Clinton.

"Yes, I did," Putin said when asked if he wanted Trump to win. "Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal."

Criticism: The press conference brought criticism of Trump from across the political spectrum.

Democrats held nothing back, calling Trump treasonous, shameful and a disgrace.

"That was disturbing," tweeted Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTrump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE (D-N.J.) "Shameful. Jaw-dropping. Disgraceful. I am running out of words to describe how despicable it is to see an American President capitulate to a dictator."

"It is hard to see President Trump siding with Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence community and our criminal investigators as anything other than treason," House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOn The Money: McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' | Trump calls Fed his 'biggest threat' | US to open trade talks with Japan, EU, UK Overnight Energy: Political appointee taking over as Interior IG | Change comes amid Zinke probe | White Houses shelves coal, nuke bailout plan | Top Dem warns coal export proposal hurts military Overnight Energy: Political employee to replace Interior inspector general amidst investigations| White House pauses plan to bail out coal and nuclear| Top Armed Services Dem warns Trump coal plan on military bases could hurt national security MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

"What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers Senate Dems race to save Menendez in deep-blue New Jersey MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainComey donates maximum amount to Democratic challenger in Virginia House race Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? MORE (R-Ariz.) called Trump's conduct "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Suspects in journalist's disappearance linked to Saudi crown prince: report Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (R-S.C.) said it was a "missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable," and encouraged Trump to check a soccer ball given to him by Putin for bugs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) also distanced themselves from Trump.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called the press conference the "most serious mistake" of Trump's presidency.

Trump's defense: Aboard Air Force One on his way home, Trump defended his performance.

"As I said today and many times before, "I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people." However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world's two largest nuclear powers, we must get along! #HELSINKI2018," he tweeted.

 

And if you need more, The Hill's Niall Stanage has five takeaways from the jaw-dropping press conference. And a look at how cable news pundits reacted.

 

IN OTHER NEWS… AFGHANISTAN WALKBACK: Officials from the NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces on Monday pushed back on reports that the U.S. is ready to start direct negotiations with the Taliban to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan.

Earlier on Monday, Reuters reported that Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and head of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission, said the U.S. is ready to join talks with the extremist group.

"Our Secretary of State, Mr. (Mike) Pompeo, has said that we, the United States, are ready to talk to the Taliban and discuss the role of international forces," Nicholson said during a visit with Afghan provincial and government representatives in Kandahar, according to the news agency.

"We hope that they realize this and that this will help to move the peace process forward."

But the general later said in a Resolute Support statement that his words were "mischaracterized."

"The United States is not a substitute for the Afghan people or the Afghan government," Nicholson said.

"My reaffirmation of Secretary Pompeo's statement in which he said peace talks would include a discussion of international forces and that the United States is ready to work with the Taliban, the Afghan government and the Afghan people towards lasting peace was mischaracterized."

Background: Pompeo last week said the U.S. would be willing to take part in peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban, but the discussions would be Afghan-led, with the U.S. playing a supporting role.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered peace talks to the Taliban several times, but the militant group – who has long said they will first discuss peace only with the Americans – has so far rejected his requests.

Other reports: The New York Times then reported late Sunday that the Trump administration, in a strategy shift, has ordered its top diplomats to seek direct talks with the Taliban to jump-start negotiations to end the war.

President Trump is reportedly frustrated with a lack of progress in the country since he unveiled a strategy last August to deploy an additional 3,000 U.S. troops – bringing the total to around 15,000 – and increasing air support for Afghan security forces.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Putin calls 2016 interference claims 'ridiculous,' but says only facts were leaked

-- The Hill: Flake to introduce resolution countering Trump's Russia summit rhetoric

-- The Hill: What Trump's NATO defense plan would mean for the US

-- The Hill: Pompeo: Talks with North Korea on returning war dead 'productive and cooperative'