President Donald Trump’s entire performance during his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin was shocking — just ask Anderson Cooper — but a handful of moments stood out above the rest.
1. Forceful removal of protester
Things were crazy even before the two leaders took the stage when a man was very forcibly removed from the gallery, a startling moment of violence that fueled an already tense atmosphere.
2. Trump trashes U.S., Mueller probe
When asked by Reuters’ Jeff Mason if he thinks the U.S. shares any blame for the current state of relations between the United States and Russia, Trump threw his own country under the bus, saying that both countries shared responsibility.
Trump then trashed the Mueller probe, which recently indicted 12 Russian agents for interference in the 2016 US presidential election, calling it “a disaster for our country.” He followed up by reminding the world he beat Hillary Clinton.
3. Putin wanted Trump to win
Reuters’ Mason also asked Putin if he wanted Trump to win and if he directed any of his officials to help Trump win. Putin simply answered, “Yes I did,” crediting Trump’s desire to normalize relations with Russia as the reason.
It’s hard to tell if he also meant the last part of that question or what might have got lost in translation, but the gist still came through.
4. Trashing the FBI, bemoaning Hillary’s emails (again), and praising Putin
This one is perhaps the most extraordinary moment of the press conference. When asked, point blank, by a journalist with the Associated Press who he believes — Putin, who denied interfering in the U.S. election, or U.S. law enforcement, who have clear evidence Russia was involved — if he would denounce Putin’s interference and confront him, Trump gave the most bewildering answer.
Instead of condemning Putin or even soft-pedaling an answer that still sided with U.S. intelligence, Trump attacked FBI investigators, refused to blame Putin, and then turned the conversation back to his obsession with Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.
He called it a “disgrace” that those Clinton emails are still missing but then managed to heap praise on Putin.
Bonus: calling Putin’s offer to send Russian assistance to the Mueller probe “incredible.”
5. The “pee tape”
Who could have seen a sideways reference to the pee tape coming, and straight from Putin? When asked if he had any incriminating evidence over Trump or his family, Putin gave a laugh.
After answering a question about Crimea, Putin circled back and addressed “rumors” about collecting evidence on Trump and made mention of the 2013 visit Trump paid to Moscow during which that tape was alleged to have been made. He did everything but say the phrase “pee tape” out loud to let us all know what he was talking about.
Putin categorically denied the existence of such a tape, calling it “nonsense” and claiming he had no idea Trump was even in Moscow at the time.
The tumultuous new norm
These clearly aren’t normal times and the ties between Trump and Russia are anything but standard. Still, even with a certain level of expectation set going in to the one-day summit, Monday’s events were stunning. The summit in Helsinki was just the latest in a line of bewildering series of foreign affairs grenades set off by Trump. Just days ago, Trump continued to blast American media and denied he had criticized UK Prime Minister Teresa May during a joint press conference with May.
That followed the earlier stunners from this summer, which included Trump’s fawning treatment of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un that stood in sharp contrast to the incredibly hostile way Trump treated American allies like France, Canada, and Germany at the G7 summit.
While Monday’s behavior is, really, more of the same, it’s also more of Trump snuggling up to America’s biggest nemesis — the man who interfered directly with one of the basic tenets of American freedom, an open and free election.
And if that doesn’t give us all reasons to be terrified, what will?