President Donald Trump said Tuesday he had a great summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, even as he faced scathing criticism for accepting Putin’s denial of Russian election meddling and failing to defend U.S. intelligence conclusions that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential contest.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia,” Trump said on Twitter. “Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!”
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, responded to Trump’s rosy assessment.
“Let’s be very clear: Russia meddled in our election,” Ryan said. “We know they interfered with our elections, and we have passed sanctions on Russia to hold them accountable.”
When asked about election meddling during a joint news conference with Putin on Monday, Trump said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” adding that “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
A day later, U.S. lawmakers continued to condemn Trump’s performance.
“It’s almost as if Donald Trump is embracing Putin’s knees. I’m ashamed of it. Every American should be,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “Can you imagine if President Kennedy believed Khrushchev when he said there were no missiles in Cuba?”
Some Republicans have come to Trump’s defense. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said “The President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations — what’s he supposed to think?
“I trust our intelligence community. I trust their assessment that there was Russian meddling in the election,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said. “But I also trust the [Russia] investigation so far, which has shown absolutely no collusion with the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence activity leading up to the  election.”
Democrats are demanding action to rein in Trump and counter Russia, from congressional hearings on the Helsinki summit to ramped up sanctions against Russia to legislation protecting the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller.
“Words are not enough. Our response to the debasement of American interests before a foreign adversary demands a response not just in word but in deed,” Schumer said. “Our Republican colleagues cannot just go ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk.’ They must act.”
“I think there’s a lot we can do together,” Cornyn responded. “But as long as this becomes a political, partisan, stop-Trump-at-all-costs effort, I don’t think we are going to make much progress.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, told reporters he expects Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify on Russia as early as next week.
Some Trump critics called on his key national security aides to quit in the face of the president saying that he had “confidence” in both Putin and the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, asked in a Twitter comment, “If you’re on the Trump national security team, and you’ve been out there saying how strong Trump is on Russia and how serious our commitment is to NATO, how do you not resign after the last four days?”
There has been no indication so far that any of Trump’s key aides planned to quit.
* Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report