Trump sides with Putin over U.S. intelligence during remarkable press conference in Helsinki

HELSINKI -- After meeting one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than two hours -- a first for an American president -- President Trump seemed to side with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"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," the president said.

After the election, all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government directed cyberattacks on members of the Democratic Party. That view is also shared by bipartisan committees in the House and Senate and the president's own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.

Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.

Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

"All I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be," the president said.

That wonderment not only conflicts with his own administration -- it overlooks Friday's special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking, fraud and conspiracy in the 2016 political cyber attacks, the most detailed and Kremlin-focused account yet.

Mr. Trump even appeared taken with Putin's suggestion, one rife with potential security pitfalls, that Russia's intelligence services could assist the special counsel probe.

"He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer," he said.

In one exchange, Putin said the U.S. could help Russia apprehend Americans wanted by Russian authorities.

The president continued to deny members of his campaign colluded with Russians and dismissed suggestions that Russian interference gave him an edge over Hillary Clinton. Putin, whom U.S. intelligence asserts ordered the election meddling, nevertheless admitted he wanted Mr. Trump to win.

The president said U.S.-Russia relations were at an all-time low and in part blamed the Mueller investigation.

"I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart. It's kept us separated," the president said.