Sen. John McCain says Trump gave 'One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president' at Putin summit

  • Sen. John McCain said President Donald Trump, appearing with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference following their summit in Helsinki, had "abased himself ... abjectly before a tyrant."
  • "The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate," the Republican senator from Arizona said in a prepared statement.
  • McCain's blistering take came hours after the press conference, in which Trump refused to criticize Putin for what U.S. intelligence agencies have said was a concerted effort by Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018.
Alexei Nikolsky | Kremlin | Reuters
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and U.S. President Donald Trump attend a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018.

Sen. John McCain called President Donald Trump's joint appearance with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," and said Trump had "abased himself ... abjectly before a tyrant."

"The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate," said McCain, the Arizona Republican, in a prepared statement. "But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."

"President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin," said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world," McCain said.

The broadside was followed soon afterward by McCain's former fellow senator, John Kerry, the ex-secretary of state, who in a tweet called Trump's actions "indefensible," "insanity," and "appalling."

Blistering take

McCain's blistering take on Trump came hours after the president, appearing with Putin at a press conference after their summit in Helsinki, Finland, refused to criticize Putin for what U.S. intelligence agencies have said was a concerted effort by Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump also had said that the United States and Russia are both to blame for the bad state of their current relationship with each other.

McCain's broadside at the president — and the criticism of many others — was much harsher than a prepared statement issued by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

"There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world," Ryan said. "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."

Here is McCain's full statement:

"Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”

Here is Kerry's statement on Trump: