Here are five key things to know about President Donald Trump's controversial meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday

By Tierney McAfee
July 17, 2018 11:37 AM

President Donald Trump is facing overwhelming criticism after he publicly accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s denial of interfering in the 2016 presidential election — despite the findings of Trump’s own U.S. intelligence agencies that Putin’s forces launched a cyber attack on the U.S. with the intent of disrupting the election.

Following his highly anticipated one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, Trump lashed out at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian cyber attack on the 2016 U.S. election, and credited Putin with a forceful denial of any wrongdoing.

“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 said.

Here are five more key things to know about the meeting.

1. The infamous alleged “pee tape” came up — and Putin didn’t deny its existence

Putin chuckled Monday over rumors that the Russian government had collected “compromising material” on Trump before he was president, but never outright denied the existence of the infamous “pee tape.”

The long-rumored and unconfirmed allegation — which was included in the Steele dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer during the 2016 presidential campaign — is that Russian intelligence agents filmed Trump with female prostitutes in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel room in 2013 as he instructed the women to urinate on the bed.

Donald Trump (left) and Vladimir Putin
| Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Asked by a reporter if the Russian government had any “compromising material” on Trump or his family, Putin responded, “Yeah, I did hear these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow.”

Addressing the reporter, the Russian president continued: “Distinguished colleague, let me tell you this: when President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But back then, when he was a private individual — a businessman — nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”

Putin added that the idea that the Russian government would collect compromising material on any American businessman was “utter nonsense.” “Please just disregard these issues and don’t think any more about this any more again,” Putin concluded.

2. Even some of Trump’s most reliable supporters criticized him for his refusal to denounce Putin over election meddling.

At Fox News, which tends to broadcast Trump-friendly opinion shows, analyst Brit Hume tweeted that when Trump was asked about who he believes on Russian interference, Trump’s “vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server” was a “lame response, to say the least.”

Fox News’ chief political anchor Bret Baier tweeted that he thought the press conference was “surreal.”

Guy Benson, a Fox News contributor, called Trump’s answer on whether he believed U.S. intelligence or Putin “atrocious.” He also tweeted that Trump’s support of support of Putin is “rooted in an embarrassing, juvenile, insecure, consuming obsession over his own legitimacy.”

Top Republicans in Congress, known not to criticize Trump — at least publicly — have also slammed him.

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a press release contradicting Trump, saying “there is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”

“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.”

3. Putin gave Trump a gift — a soccer ball.

In the public moments surrounding the meeting, Trump focused on praise for Russia’s recent World Cup hosting duties, rather than the country’s 12 intelligence officials charged on Friday by the U.S. Justice Department with hacking into the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

At a press conference, Trump lavished praise on Putin for the World Cup — ”It was really one of the best ever … it was a great job,” Trump said at a lectern beside Putin, who presented Trump with a soccer ball. Trump tossed the ball to First Lady Melania Trump, who was seated in a front row, and said they would bring it home for their soccer-playing son, Barron, 12.

4. Putin admitted that he wanted Trump to defeat Clinton in the presidential election.

Asked if he wanted Trump to win the US presidential election, Putin responded, “Yes, I did,” and added, “Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.” Trump did not respond to Putin’s admission, but in the past he has repeatedly dismissed the idea that the Russian government supported his presidential campaign.

5. Trump and Putin met privately for two hours with only translators, no notetakers or witnesses.

Some diplomats, political pundits and everyday citizens are voicing concerns that there is no official record of the meeting.

Trump had opposed having a notetaker in the room during the meeting because he was worried about potential leaks, a foreign official brief on the plans told The Wall Street Journal.

The Intercept, an investigative news outlet funded by Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, noted in a tweet: “Trump and Putin have concluded their extended private meeting, which lasted more than two hours. There will be no official record of the exchange, since notetakers and all aides except for two translators were kept out of the room.”

And author Stephen King, a vocal Trump critic, tweeted: “Unless one of the translators talks, we’ll never know what went on in that Helsinki meeting. Putin’s a liar and Trump’s another. They are both showmen, and this is made-for-TV entertainment.”