By Michael Hernandez
President Donald Trump said Tuesday his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was "even better" than his conference with his transatlantic allies at a NATO summit amid mounting criticism of his handling of the sit-downs.
"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 in a series of morning tweets.
"NATO was weak, but now it is strong again (bad for Russia)," Trump added.
His defense follows a wave of bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and former senior U.S. officials, with some alleging that the president committed treason during his meeting with Putin.
Following hours of closed-door meetings, Trump told reporters that while he has "great confidence" in the U.S. intelligence community, "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
He was referring to the conclusion by America's intelligence agencies that Russia, under Putin's orders, worked to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in order to bolster Trump's chances, a charge Putin has consistently rejected.
The apparent equivalence Trump was drawing between Putin's denials and the assessment of his intelligence community drew widespread condemnation, including from prominent members of Trump's own party.
Shortly after the president made the comments, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said there is no question Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.
"That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence," the ranking House Republican said in a statement. "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."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told reporters on Capitol Hill he is "very disappointed and saddened" by the "equivalency" Trump demonstrated.
"They definitely interfered in our election," he said. "That’s not debatable. And again, I just don’t know what it is about the president that he continues to deny that it occurred. I get the feeling, first hand actually, that sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally."
Former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump unceremoniously ousted, said Trump "sold out our nation."
"This was the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country," Comey said on Twitter. "Patriots need to stand up and reject the behavior of this president."
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