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ABC News(HELSINKI, Finland) -- In his first interview following a summit and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, President Donald Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News he thought Putin was "very, very strong" and complained that the "phony witch hunt" into Russia's interference in the 2016 election has driven a "phony wedge" between the two nations.

"Ninety percent of the nuclear power in the world between these two nations, and we've had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart," Trump said, going on to say he thinks the probe is the biggest impediment to stronger relations. "It's the thing that he told me when he went in. He said, 'What a shame.'"

The president reiterated that Putin strongly denied collusion and also brushed off the idea Russia had compromising information on Trump.

"He said there was no collusion whatsoever. He said it as strong as you can say it. They have no information on Trump," Trump said. "And one thing you know, if they had it, it would have been out."

The president said that although he believes U.S.-Russian relations were at a historic low point just prior to his meeting with Putin, he is now hopeful for cooperative relations going forward.

"It was great today, but I think it was really bad five hours ago," Trump said. "I think we really had a potential problem. Dealing with two nuclear nations. At 90 percent of the nuclear power in the world between these two nations, and we've had a phony witch hunt deal it drive us apart."

In addition to his comments at the press conference, Putin again denied any Russian interference in the U.S. election in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

"Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States -- do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" Putin said. "This is utterly ridiculous."

Putin also denied to Wallace that his government has "compromising material" on Trump.

"We don't have anything on them," Putin said. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this -- and I may come as rude -- but before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us."

In an interview with Russian TV outlet Channel 1, Putin offered compliments of Trump following their summit, saying he was an "interesting conversation partner."

"He is a very qualified person, he knows the material, he listens, he takes in arguments, he keeps his own opinion on some questions," Putin said.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump hedged on whether he agrees with the intelligence community on its conclusion that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election at a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Monday.

"People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others -- they said they think it's Russia," Trump said. "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."

Trump added that while "I have great confidence in my intelligence people," Putin gave him a very strong denial.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, head of the U.S. intelligence community, reaffirmed his conclusion that Russia had indeed tried to sway the election in a statement published after Trump's remarks.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Coats wrote.

Trump later reiterated his support for the intelligence community on Twitter, while adding that diplomacy between Russia and the U.S. must also be a priority.

"As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,' he tweeted. "However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!"

Former homeland security advisor to Trump and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert, who said he hopes the president did not mean to imply he trusts Putin over his own intelligence officers, agreed with Coats.

"I've seen that intelligence, I believe it, I've concluded that there was Russian meddling," he said.

Bossert said that while he understands why Trump would be defensive on the topic, he believes the president needs to better differentiate between the political attacks against him and the assessments of America's intelligence agencies.

"It is extremely infuriating and frustrating to stand up day after day, as he does, and take questions -- I believe in his view, baseless questions -- that undermine the credibility of his presidency and the legitimacy of the election he fought so hard for," Bossert said. "But that doesn't change the fact on days like today when you're on a world stage and you're the commander in chief of the United States of America, I think you have to put those domestic political frustrations aside and you've got to answer the questions in a way that provides confidence to our intelligence community."

Several Republican lawmakers also weighed in.

“I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again: The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said.

Senator Marco Rubio likewise affirmed his support of the intelligence community's findings.

“What the president said today is not accurate," he said. "The intelligence community has assembled probably an unparalleled amount of evidence in regards to the Russian, not just efforts to interfere in 2016, but ongoing efforts to interfere in American society."

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally."

"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," Ryan said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The response from lawmakers to President Trump’s press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin was swift and almost universally negative, with especially critical statements coming from members of Trump’s own party.

Sen, Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "Putin only understands strength and I did not think this was a good moment for our country."

"I felt like, that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength and I just felt like the president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover. And I’m disappointed in that," Corker told reporters on Capitol Hill.

"When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies, who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency that he gave between them and what Putin was saying," he added.

"They definitely interfered in our election," Corker continued. "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, firsthand actually, that sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally."

Asked how much he thought Putin gained from the encounter, Corker responded: "I think he gained a tremendous amount. Here he has been ostracized on the world stage."

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory, " Sen. John McCain said in a statement.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," McCain said from Arizona, where he's battling brain cancer.

“I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again. The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, according to his office.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, normally a staunch Trump supporter, tweeted: "President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately."

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally."

"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," Ryan said. "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."

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., was one of the first members of Congress to issue a written response to the press conference, taking particular issue with Trump’s assertion that both countries are responsible for the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” Sasse said.

During the 45-minute press conference, Trump said he didn’t “see any reason” why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, despite the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, asserted that there was “zero collusion” between the two governments and called Putin a “good competitor,” which he described as a compliment.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another consistent Trump critic, called the press conference “shameful.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has lately been muting his criticism of Trump in order to better position himself to accomplish policy goals, didn’t go as far as Flake or Sasse but did say the president should have used the press conference to denounce Russia’s interference.

In a separate tweet, Graham also warned that he would “check the soccer ball for listening devices,” referencing the ball Putin handed Trump during the press conference, and which Trump tossed to his wife, First Lady Melania Trump.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a frequent ally of Trump’s, did not criticize Trump but did restate the facts, which in and of itself was a repudiation of what the president asserted during the press conference.

He added that the U.S. must work to secure all future elections “regardless of what Vladimir Putin or any other Russian operative says.”

Democrats also responded quickly, describing the press conference and the other events of Trump’s Western Europe junket, which also took him to a NATO conference and London, England, in fatalistic terms.

“Starting with the president’s trip to NATO and ending with his shameful performance at today’s press conference, President Trump has strengthened our adversaries while weakening our defenses and those of our allies,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer also mused about why Trump would continue to be so deferential to the Russians, suggesting it might be because Putin has something compromising about Trump that he is hanging over his head.

"Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump," Schumer said.

Putin responded to a question about that during the press conference, calling such a notion "rumors" and saying he didn't know Trump when he visited Russia before becoming president, but he did not outright deny it.

“That press conference was a disgrace,” House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., wrote in his own statement. “Because of the President’s reckless and disgusting behavior, the entire week has been a disaster for American leadership and our standing in the world.”

Other Democrats, including Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner, whose panel is investigating Russia’s interference in the election, issued their immediate reactions on social media.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, listed several historic locations where previous wartime adversaries surrendered and added the location of the Trump/Putin meeting.

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Chris McGrath/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. John McCain issued a damning statement of President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling their joint news conference "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," McCain said in a statement.

The statement about the Putin meeting is just the latest in a string of criticisms the Republican senator has had for Trump during the president's tenure, and McCain touched on the personal traits of Trump's that were exposed in the meeting with Putin.

"President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin," McCain said in the statement. "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 has a history of spats not only with Trump but also with Russia, as the Arizona senator was sanctioned by Putin in 2015. At the time, McCain said that he "couldn't be more proud" of the sanction, which came amid Russia's efforts to annex Crimea.

In his latest statement, McCain warned of how the meeting with Trump will be seen as an inherent approval of the Putin regime.

"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," he said. "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."

McCain also took issue with the contrast between the praise that Trump had for Putin compared with the "bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain."

"No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," McCain said. "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."

The senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, a co-host of ABC's "The View" and a regular Republican political commentator, wrote on Twitter that she was "horrified" by the news conference and reiterated her pride in her father's sanction.

"I don’t have anything quippy to tweet. I’m horrified - and have never been more proud of the fact that Putin hates my father so much he personally sanctioned him on Russia's enemies list," she wrote.

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump held a historic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday in Finland, using some kind words to describe his budding relationship with the world leader.

The comments that followed the meeting were the most recent in a string of them stemming from Trump’s interactions with heads of state where he turned the tables on existing ties, either reversing a historically poor relationship or making a longstanding friendship unexpectedly uncomfortable.

Here is a rundown of some of the most controversial comments Trump has made in connection to fellow heads of state.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The G-7 conference ended in early June with something of a war of words between North American neighbors.

After the meeting, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will "not be pushed around" by the United States with its decision to slap tariffs on some imports from Canada and other countries.

"For Canadians who … stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far-off lands and conflicts from the First World War onward ... it's kind of insulting,” Trudeau said.

Trump, who was on his way to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, responded on Twitter June 9, accusing Trudeau of being duplicitous as well as "dishonest & weak."

He later told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos about the situation in an interview immediately after the North Korea meeting.

"Everybody was happy" at the end of the G-7 conference, Trump said. "And then he [Trudeau] gave out a little bit of an obnoxious thing. I actually like Justin. I think he’s good. I like him but he shouldn't have done that. That was a mistake that’s going to cost him a lot of money."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Trump called the North Korean dictator "a very worthy, smart negotiator, absolutely," while standing alongside Kim in Singapore in June.

"I do trust him, yeah," Trump said in an interview with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in Singapore immediately after the summit.

"Maybe in a year you’ll be interviewing and I'll say I made a mistake. It's possible. We’re dealing at a high level. A lot of things can change; a lot of things are possible.

"Over my lifetime I've done a lot of deals with a lot of people and sometimes the people you most distrust turn out to be the most honorable ones and the people that you do trust turn out to be not the honorable ones," Trump said.

"I believe he wants to get it done."

At another point shortly after the summit, Trump praised the North Korean leader again.

“Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough,” Trump said. “I don't say he was nice or say anything about it. He ran it, few people at that age – you could take one out of 10,000 could not do it.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May

An interview that Trump gave to British newspaper The Sun was published while he was visiting with Prime Minister Theresa May in England, and it added a pinch of awkwardness, given some of his comments.

The Sun reported that Trump insulted May's handling of the Brexit negotiations, the ongoing effort to remove the U.K. from the European Union, saying May has gone "the opposite way" from the tough stance he suggested she take, and the results have been "very unfortunate."

He also said in the interview that he thinks she is "a very good person."

In a joint news conference held hours after the interview was published, Trump said, "I didn't criticize the prime minister. I have a lot of respect for the prime minister."

"When I saw her this morning, I said, ‘I wanted to apologize.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s only the press,’” Trump said.

Beyond the apology, Trump went on to praise May.

"She will do very well. I think she's a very tough negotiator," he said of May, going on to call her a "very, very smart and determined person ... She left a lot of people in her wake. She's a very smart, very tough, very capable person, and I would much rather have her as my friend than as my enemy, I can tell you."

When asked to further describe their relationship, Trump said, "I would say I give our relationship in terms of grade the highest level of special ... Now especially after these two days... I would say the highest level of special."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

While Trump has said much about Merkel and his relationship with the German chancellor in the past, his most recent high-profile comments were directed at her country and its policies, as opposed to her personally.

During a breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the recent NATO summit, Trump repeatedly said Germany is "captive to Russia."

"I have to say, I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we're supposed to be guarding against Russia.

"We're supposed to protect you against Russia but they're paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that's very inappropriate.

The European Union

During an interview with CBS that aired Sunday, July 15, Trump was asked to name the biggest global foe.

The first one he named? The European Union.

"Well I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn't think of the European Union but they're a foe," Trump told CBS.

"Russia is a foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically. Certainly, they are a foe. But that doesn't mean they are bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive. They want to do well and we want to do well," he said.

After that interview aired, Trump turned to Twitter to paint a rosier picture, saying "we had a truly great Summit that was inaccurately covered by much of the media. NATO is now strong & rich!"

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Trump has praised Putin in the past, including during his presidential campaign. But in his recent comments, he's been focused on his hopes of a good relationship to come.

"I think I'd have a very good relationship with President Putin if we spend time together," Trump said Friday, July 13, during a news conference alongside British Prime Minister May in England. "And I may be wrong. You know, other people have said, ‘It didn't work out.' But I'm different than other people."

"I think that we would have a chance to have a very good relationship with Russia and a very good chance -- a very good relationship with President Putin. I would hope so," Trump said before meeting with Putin in Finland.

During a joint news conference held after their meeting, Trump said the relationship between the United States and Russia -- which he said was at an all-time low -- "changed as of about four hours ago."

Trump noted that he has called Putin "a competitor" in the past but "the word competitor is a compliment."

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ABC News (HELSINKI) -- A(HELSINKI) -- President Donald Trump said he addressed Russia's interference in the U.S. 2016 election and that President Vladmir Putin was "extremely strong" in his denials.

"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," President Trump said, standing at podium side-by-side with the Russian president during a joint press conference Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

He continued: “So 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.”

While Putin has long denied Russian involvement and did so again Monday, the U.S. intelligence community has long maintained that Russia did in fact meddle in the U.S. election, and just three days ago, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian government agents for hacking the Democratic Party during the 2016 election.

Trump said Monday that Putin made an “incredible offer” to allow US investigators work alongside Russian investigators.

“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,” Trump said.

President Trump said that relations between the two nations were at a historic low point prior to today's meeting but argued that relations have already taken a positive turn as a result of today's diplomatic engagement.

“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” President Trump said.

Trump described the conversations as “direct, open, [and] deeply productive,” while Putin called the meeting a “success” and “fruitful.”

Asked if he holds Russia accountable for any specific element of the strained relations between the two nations, Trump said he holds both countries accountable but specifically zeroed in on the ongoing special counsel probe in the US as a “disaster” that has divided the U.S. domestically and for having a damaging impact on US-Russian relations.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes,” Trump said. “I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart. It's kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.”

“We won that race,” Trump said, referencing his victory over Hillary Clinton. “It's a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing – we discussed this also – is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world.”

When a reporter questioned Putin on his continued denials of US election meddling, President Trump jumped in to say "we ran a brilliant campaign, and that's why I'm president.”

Even as he was deeply critical of the special counsel probe, President Trump did not offer any public condemnation of Russia’s meddling in the election.

The two leaders met for a long-anticipated summit Monday, but initially publicly made no mention of thorny issues like election meddling, Syria or Crimea before sitting down for the first meeting, a one-on-one encounter.

The two leaders began the summit by walking quietly into a room in the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. Against the backdrop of six U.S. and Russian flags, Putin broke the silence with brief remarks.

But when Trump spoke, he didn't publicly address some of the issues vexing politicians back home, in Europe and the Middle East, such as the federal indictments last week of Russian military intelligence officers, Russia's defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the annexation of Crimea.

Instead, he started his remarks by congratulating his counterpart on hosting the World Cup.

"I'd like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup, one of the best ever," Trump said. "And for also your team doing so well.

"It was beautifully done," he added, saying he watched the finals.

Trump said they'll be talking about trade, military and China. Among the major topics will be repairing the deteriorating relationship between the two countries, he added.

"We've been not getting along for the past years," Trump said. "We'll have an extraordinary relationship.

"And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. It's not a good thing, it’s a bad thing. So we'll be talking about that, among other things."

Putin, who is known to keep world leaders waiting, arrived almost 30 minutes late in Helsinki for the meeting. In his opening remarks, he said the time had come for bilateral relations in "various hotspots in the world."

"There are enough of them that we have paid attention to them," he said.

"I am glad to meet with you on the hospitable soil of Finland," Putin told Trump.

He didn't address some of the more controversial issues, either.

After both leaders spoke, they briefly shook hands.

The pool of reporters shouted several questions about election meddling to Trump after his remarks but he didn't respond.

The leaders then ducked into a private room to start the bilateral meeting with advisers and interpreters.

After two hours of meeting privately, Trump and Putin emerged and then headed to the expanded bilateral meeting and working lunch.

Trump told reporters the private part of the summit had gone well.

"I think it's a good start, a very good start for everybody," he said.

Trump and Putin will hold a news conference after the lunch.

The meeting happened after a week of worldwide anxious anticipation spanning from the United States to Europe to Russia.

Before they met, Trump tweeted, "Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!"

Trump has said he hopes to improve relations with Russia but has placed blame for the deteriorated relationship on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, rather than Russian aggression and meddling.

The Russian ministry of foreign affairs tweeted Monday: "We agree."

When asked about his message to Putin during a breakfast at Mantyniemi, the Finnish president's residence, with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and first lady Jenni Haukio, Trump simply replied, "We'll do just fine, thank you."

The stakes are high for the summit. Just days before Trump arrived in Helsinki, special counsel Robert Mueller issued indictments on 12 Russian spies for their alleged interference in the 2016 election.

News of action by Mueller added additional pressure on the president to address election meddling and hold Putin accountable for Russian aggression. Monday's meeting loomed large over each leg of the president's tour.

At NATO, allied leaders condemned Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, and British Prime Minister Theresa May said at a news conference with Trump that she welcomed "the strong response from the U.S. on the poisonings in Salisbury."

Trump said election interference, along with Syria, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and meddling will be among the topics on the table Monday.

“I know you’ll ask will we be talking about meddling. And I will absolutely bring that up. I don’t think you’ll have any, 'Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me.' There won't be a Perry Mason here, I don’t think. But you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely firmly ask the question," Trump said at Chequers, May's residence, Friday.

It was still unclear if the issues came up during the private meeting.

Kremlin press secretary Dmitri Peskov told reporters before the summit that if Trump brings up interference in the U.S. election, he will "reiterate that Russia did not and could not bear any relation to the matter on which such speculations are centered."

Over the weekend, Trump and his White House advisers tried to downplay the impact of the summit. For the White House, the meeting isn't so much about resolving problems but building a diplomatic bridge between two countries that have not seen worse relations since the Cold War.

Trump himself said he did not have "high expectations" for their talks, and White House national security adviser John Bolton, who took the lead on orchestrating the summit by traveling to Moscow to meet with Putin, said the United States should not expect any deliverables or written agreements, like the joint agreement made by Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.

"We have asked and the Russians have agreed that it will be basically unstructured. We're not looking for concrete deliverables here," Bolton said Sunday on ABC News’ "This Week." "I think it's very important that the president has a direct one-on-one conversation with President Putin. That's how this is going to start."

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman even said it’s not a "summit" but a "meeting" on NBC's "Meet the Press."

“Listen, and it isn't a summit. I've heard it called a summit. This is a meeting. In fact, it's the first meeting between the two presidents. They've had some pull-asides, one at the G20 in Hamburg and the other at the APEC Ministerial in Da Nang, Vietnam,” Huntsman said. “But this is really the first time for both presidents to actually sit across the table and have a conversation. And I hope it's a detailed conversation about where we might be able to find some overlapping and shared interests. This has not happened before.”

Trump went on to call it a summit later in a tweet.

While allied NATO leaders like May were encouraged by Trump’s meeting with Putin, lawmakers at home expressed skepticism before the talks in Finland and even told Trump to cancel their meeting if he could not guarantee a hardline response to election meddling.

"President Trump must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength and demonstrate that there will be a serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world," Republican Sen. John McCain said in a statement. "If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward."

Concern has grown the president will make concessions with Russia, or come out with nothing much to show for the meeting except handshakes, smiles and photos, particularly as aides have said the president hasn't been keen on studying up ahead of the summit, according to ABC News sources.

"Will I be prepared? I’m totally prepared. I have been preparing for this stuff my whole life," Trump said at a rally in Montana before he left for Europe.

Trump spent the weekend before the summit at Trump Turnberry resort on the coast of Scotland meeting with advisers, tweeting and playing golf.

Early Monday and hours before the meeting, protests broke out in Helsinki calling for human rights and democracy.

It's the first official summit between the presidents of the United States and Russia since 1997 when Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin produced a breakthrough agreement on arms control in Helsinki.

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ABC(WASHINGTON) -- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page returns to Capitol Hill Monday for a second day of questioning from House lawmakers after Republicans called her testimony "credible" as they search for anti-Trump bias in the handling of the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations.

"Lisa Page is a very credible witness and she's doing her best to help us find the truth," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said on Friday, after the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees first interviewed Page.

"I can tell you, in ways I think she's been falsely accused about not being willing to cooperate. We've learned some evidence today that would suggest she's been willing to help, in the spirit of transparency. ... The last thing anyone wants is to be falsely accused. Her willingness to cooperate today speaks well for her."

Democrats, for their part, claimed they had learned little new from Page, one day after a contentious public hearing with FBI agent Peter Strzok, with whom Page had an extramarital affair and exchanged messages criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump and other politicians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The messages were uncovered by the Justice Department inspector general, who determined in a report that the Hillary Clinton email probe was not impacted by political bias, but said the messages from Page and Strzok - along with some of the decisions of former FBI Director James Comes - impacted the FBI's reputation.

Page is expected to appear on Capitol Hill at 11 am Monday, according to a congressional aide.

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Scott Pruitt's resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) marked the end of a tumultuous time at the agency, but when it comes to policy the new acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is not expected to change course.

Wheeler is expected to continue walking back regulations proposed under the Obama administration, many of which President Donald Trump and Pruitt have called an overreach of the EPA's authority.

When it comes to reforming rules intended to combat climate change, Wheeler told The Washington Post that he does believe people have an impact on climate. But when it comes to rewriting regulations for greenhouse gases he will put forward suggestions that stay within the laws passed by Congress.

"I know that there’s a number of senators that would like us to go much further, but of course environmental organizations would love us to go much further," Wheeler told the Post. "But you’re not going to see the EPA, at least under my direction, make up a lot as we go along. We’re going to follow the law that Congress has given us."

The EPA is still working on a replacement for the Clean Power Plan, a policy written by the Obama administration to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It has also submitted a proposed change to a rule to protect bodies of water to the White House, and recently launched an effort to establish new limits for a chemical found in drinking water and groundwater all over the country.

Wheeler said that he wants to "depoliticize" environmental issues in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

He also told the Post he will work closely with career scientists at the agency and work to increase transparency.

Sen. Tom Carper, the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee with oversight of EPA, wrote to Wheeler on Friday asking him to "restore the American people's confidence in the agency's mission" by working to increase transparency at EPA. Carper also called for Wheeler to withdraw policy proposals that he called "legally questionable," such as the so-called "secret science" rule that would change what research the EPA is allowed to use when it creates regulations.

"Andrew, you have been granted an enormous challenge and responsibility, but an even greater opportunity," Carper wrote. "The damage Scott Pruitt has done to the Agency will not easily be undone. While you and I have not always agreed, and will not always agree, on every environmental policy matter, it is my hope and expectation that you will carefully consider the lessons of the past as you prepare to chart the Agency’s future."

It is unclear if Trump will nominate a new administrator to take over or how long Wheeler will be running the agency but any nominee would likely face a tough confirmation battle. If Trump nominates Wheeler to be the permanent administrator, he would need to be confirmed by the Senate again.

Some Democrats have vocally opposed Wheeler's nomination as deputy administrator, citing his track record on climate change and previous work as a lobbyist for companies with interests before EPA, including the coal company Murray Energy. When Wheeler's nomination for deputy administrator was up for a vote in April some Democrats even argued that it should be delayed so he could be vetted more thoroughly because it was likely he would take over at EPA if Pruitt resigned.

The EPA said that Wheeler did not lobby EPA on behalf of Murray and that he has recused himself from issues related to his former clients.

Environmental groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, also say they will continue to fight Wheeler and Trump's agenda at the EPA. Both groups were vocal opponents of Pruitt and launched a campaign calling for him to resign.

"Andrew Wheeler is equally unqualified to serve as the nation’s chief environmental steward," Ana Unruh Cohen, managing director for government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "Like Pruitt, this veteran coal lobbyist has shown only disdain for the EPA’s vital mission to protect Americans’ health and our environment."

There are still several pending investigations into Pruitt's conduct at the agency, including the cost of his often first-class travel, 24/7 security detail, and his living arrangement in a Capitol Hill condo connected to lobbyists.

A spokesman for the EPA inspector general's office said they will still complete the investigations even though Pruitt no longer works for the agency.

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Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appeared in court on Tuesday. But the hearing didn’t provide a resolution to the military man’s legal battles, or additional information about his cooperation in the ongoing Russia probe.

Instead, today’s roughly 20-minute proceeding was more of a meet and greet between U.S. Federal Judge Emmitt Sullivan, Flynn, his defense attorneys, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. This was the first hearing Judge Sullivan presided over in the case since accepting the assignment, and Flynn’s first court appearance since last December when he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Judge Sullivan said he called in lawyers for both sides as well as the defendant because he felt “a level of discomfort” preparing sentencing for someone he did not know.

A few demonstrators chanting “lock him up” greeted Flynn outside of the courthouse.

The defendant appeared to be at ease. The retired three-star general did not speak during the entire proceeding but nodded to acknowledge some of the people in attendance. He was accompanied by his wife, Trish, and his attorney Robert Kelner who informed Judge Sullivan that Flynn is eager to “proceed with sentencing whenever possible.” He also added that the elements of the case were “not likely to change in any material way.”

But there has been no apparent rush by either legal team to reach a sentencing hearing. In the seven months since Flynn agreed to be a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, his sentencing has been delayed three times.

Last month, Mueller’s team and Flynn’s attorneys submitted a joint status asking the court for the latest delay. The filling states that because of the ongoing investigation, both parties “do not believe this matter is ready to be scheduled for a hearing at this time,” and that they would provide another joint status report on August 24th. However, this time they also requested that a probation office prepare a presentence investigation report for Flynn—a necessary step for federal sentencing, but one that’s typically completed after the date for a sentencing hearing is set.

Today, Judge Sullivan agreed to give the special counsel more time, but said he would not request the presentencing report until Mueller’s team indicated that they were prepared to proceed with sentencing. The judge also added that he would set sentencing for 60 days after Mueller’s team indicates they’re prepared to move forward, but so far investigators have provided no projected timeline.

While the delay in sentencing indicates that Flynn is still playing an active role in the special counsel’s investigation, today’s hearing did not provide insight about the nature of his role. Judge Sullivan gave all parties the opportunity to ask questions, but none did.

According to federal guidelines, Flynn could face up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI regarding back-channel conversations with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Trump administration’s transition. However, in light of his cooperation with investigators, he is unlikely to receive a sentence on the severe end of the scale and could avoid jail time altogether.

While Flynn awaits a final answer, he has a picked up a new job. ABC News confirmed reports on Tuesday that a new consulting firm, Stonington Global LLC, hired him as their Director of Global Strategy.

"The world is changing rapidly, and now is America’s moment to lead,” Flynn said in a statement. “I will work every day to put my over 33 years of experience in the defense, intelligence, and national security communities as well as serving Presidents of both parties in the White House to good use in helping companies and governments enhance the goals of freedom and liberty."

Prior to his return to the working world, sources close to Flynn say he had been spending time with his family in Rhode Island this summer.

“He's a beach nut. And he's playing a lot of golf with friends or occasionally surfing," one close Flynn confidant told ABC News on Monday.

In the months since he pleaded guilty, Flynn has largely remained outside of the spotlight—avoiding the media and even shutting down a conservative lobbyist’s unauthorized attempt to fundraise for his legal defense fund.

“He felt he needed to act as a soldier and has kept his mouth shut,” a source close to Flynn told ABC News. “He doesn’t want to be viewed as a whiner.”

However, Flynn did publically break his silence while campaigning for California congressional candidate Omar Navarro, a Republican vying for Maxine Waters’ seat.

“What I’m not here to do, is I’m not here to complain about who has done me wrong, or how unfair I’ve been treated or how unfair the entire process has been,” Flynn said while introducing Navarro. “You know what it is.”

Through the year and a half of political turmoil sparked by his 24-day term as national security adviser, Flynn has amassed a base of supporters who don’t believe he lied to FBI. Some friends and family members have used the hashtag #ClearFlynnNow as a way to build public support on social media.

But barring the submission of any new evidence, the closest Flynn may come to clearing his name is a presidential pardon. It is unclear whether Flynn or his legal team has asked for one, and unclear if President Donald Trump would grant one.

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Alex Edelman/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Hours before President Donald Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin one American senator made his displeasure known in a string of tweets calling Putin a "murderer," "crook" and "liar."

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., one the more frequent opponents of the president within the GOP, took to Twitter to send out nine tweets on the upcoming meeting, including eight points about the Russian president.

Sasse posed the question "Who is Vladimir Putin?" and "What does he want?" to start off the tweet storm.

Sasse's second tweet called Putin a "murderer" for political assassinations and shooting down Malaysia flight 17.

"Putin is a murderer. He has ordered the assassinations of political adversaries and used outlawed chemical weapons to do it," Sasse tweeted. "He oversees Russian military units that shot down Malaysian flight 17 and murdered almost 300 civilians."

Sasse's comments on political assassinations likely refers to people such as Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who defected and spoke out against Putin. He was murdered by poisoning in 2006 -- an assassination that an inquiry by the British government said was "probably approved" by Putin.

Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down on July 17, 2014 over Ukraine while flying from the Netherlands to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people on board were killed when the plane was struck by a missile, which an international study released in May concluded was fired by the Russian military.

Sasse went on to say Putin is a "crook and a liar," based on the fact that "he has broken almost every agreement he has signed with the United States, including on Syria and Ukraine. He has become one of the world's richest men through embezzlement and stealing from his own people."

The senator called Putin "an enemy of America" and said, "It’s not just that he messed with our election in 2016; he attacks us regularly, and will again in 2018."

Sasse also said, just a few hours before the Putin-Trump summit, "I don't think President Trump should be dignifying Putin with this meeting. When Reagan met with Gorbachev, he did so from a position of strength & moral clarity about the evil empire that the Soviet Union was, and w/ a clear purpose to end the Soviet Union's threat to the US."

President Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík, Iceland, in October 1986 to discuss, among other topics, the countries' nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The tweets were a much stronger message than the senator released last week when he wouldn't outright say the meeting should be called off -- despite criticzing Putin and Russia -- following the indictment of 12 Russians as part of Robert Mueller's probe into meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"The U.S. intelligence community knows that the Russian government attacked the U.S. This is not a Republican or a Democrat view -- it is simply the reality. All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America's friend, and he is not the President's buddy. We should stand united against Putin's past and planned future attacks against us," Sasse said in a statement Friday.

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Subscribe To This Feed -- Finland's largest newspaper is welcoming President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin with a series of billboards ahead of their long-awaited summit -- mocking their notoriously bad relationships with the media with pointed messages of freedom of the press.

Nearly 300 billboards -- which preview some of both presidents' most "turbulent relations" with the media from 2000 to 2018 -- are posted along the routes from the airport to the site of the summit, according to a press release about the campaign from Helsingin Sandomat.

They are written in Russian as well as English.

hs.fiOne poster, with a headline from 2004, reads in Russian: "Russian reporter who criticized Putin gains asylum in Britain."

Another billboard reads in part: "Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press."

hs.fiAccording to Kaius Nieme, senior editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat, the campaign's goal is to "raise the topic of the freedom of the press around the world."

"This is a statement on behalf of critical and high quality journalism," Nieme wrote in the press release. "As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Finland, we want to remind them of the importance of free press. The media shouldn't be the lap dog of any president or regime."

"We want to show our support to those colleagues who have to fight in ever toughening circumstances on a daily basis, both in the U.S. and Russia," Nieme continued.

hs.fiRelations between the press and government officials in both the U.S. and Russia have been problematic throughout the years. In Russia, freedom of the press has become "almost non-existent" during the reign of Putin, according to the press release from the paper.

Trump, meanwhile, has called the news "enemy of the people" and referred to their reporting as "fake news." On his way to Helsinki on Sunday, he took to Twitter to repeat the verbal attacks.

Both presidents are scheduled to meet during the Russia-U.S. summit in Helsinki on Monday.

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Anadolu Agency / Contributor / Getty Images(HELSINKI, Finland) -- Publicly, President Trump has said that he's been preparing for this summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin his whole life, while admitting at NATO that he expects "just a loose meeting."

But privately, a State Department official and a source familiar with preparations says summit planning was so rushed that the No. 2s at the major departments -- like State, Defense and Treasury -- did not convene specifically on this summit through the National Security Council.

By comparison, there were multiple deputy NSC meetings to prepare for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month.

The State Department official compared the lack of preparation to the G-7 summit last month, when the U.S. was unable to agree on a communique with allies.

Unlike Singapore, where Trump met Kim, there is no expectation that a document will be produced from this summit.

Russian Ambassador Jon Huntsman said recently that the meeting itself is a deliverable.

This meeting is so informal that it's being described as a "getting to know you."

The White House is telling reporters to stop calling it a summit. Instead, officials describe it as a meeting, even though the White House originally used the term summit.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin in Helsinki Monday in the long-anticipated summit. The meeting comes against the backdrop of Trump feuding with European allies, 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted stemming from the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election, and Democrats back home calling for Trump to cancel the meeting.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the news media and Democrats won't be satisfied with any outcome of the summit.

"Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all the sins and evils committed by Russia...over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough - that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!" the president tweeted. "Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems...know how to do is resist and obstruct."

Meanwhile, administration officials have told European allies not to expect any "major surprises."

Still, with the unpredictability of both leaders, unexpected developments are still possible.

A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that since President Donald Trump has "believed" President Vladimir Putin's denials that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, it "belies common sense" that Trump "is going to sit down across from Putin and press him hard on the issue of Russian meddling."

"He has already said that he has asked Putin about meddling," Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy said of Trump on Sunday in an interview on This Week. "Putin told him he didn't do it, and he believed him. And so it just belies common sense that the president of the United States, this president, is going to sit down across from Putin and press him hard on the issue of Russian meddling."

Murphy was responding to an earlier interview with John Bolton, in which the national security adviser told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that the latest special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for meddling in the 2016 election actually "strengthens" the president's hand ahead of his Monday summit with Putin in Helsinki.

"I'd like to know the name of the president that John Bolton thinks he works for, because he's not describing President Trump -- President Trump went on TV after the indictment was issued and called the investigation once again a hoax," Murphy said. "He knows that he benefited from it, he asked them to do it, and he knows that he still stands to benefit."

Murphy added that U.S. intelligence services have said that Russia is still trying to interfere in U.S. elections.

"What I believe is that President Trump knows ultimately knows that could accrue to his benefit and to his party's benefit. He is simply not going to raise this issue as strongly as he should, if at all, with Putin, which is why many of us think that this summit should stand down," he told Karl on This Week.

The summit comes just days after special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers for conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment alleges that named defendants worked in the GRU, Russia's intelligence body, and specifically took part in a sustained effort to hack into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Murphy said that Trump needs to approach Congress and "ask for more funds to stand up electoral defenses."

"He's done none of that," Murphy told Karl. "We have had to essentially bludgeon the president into issuing sanctions, and the Congress has had to appropriate money to try to shore up our electoral defenses."

Murphy also was critical of Trump's recent NATO visit. The president has been critical of the amount members of the alliance are have been spending. An agreement in 2014 stated that the member nations would move toward each committing 2 percent GDP to defense spending by 2024.

"It is an important issue, but let's remember the percentage of your budget dedicated defense is not the sum total of your participation in the alliance," Murphy said.

"But our allies can pull more of their weight here, can’t they?" asked Karl.

"They certainly can, but so can we," responded Murphy, adding that the U.S. is "not picking up our share of the burden" with the refugee crisis in the Middle East.

"But let's be clear, NATO today is arguably functionally obsolete," Murphy said. "Do you really believe that if the Europeans were attacked in the Baltic States, for instance by Russia, that President Trump would leap to their defense?"

Under Article 5, the NATO treaty states that if one member nation is attacked, it's an attack on all member nations, and that nations will defend each other. It's a commitment to solidarity within the alliance. Article 5 was invoked after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

"It's always going to be a political decision as to whether you actually enforce Article 5, and I think that there is a very important question today as to whether President Trump would actually stand up for Article 5," Murphy said. "I think NATO is just trying to survive the next two-and-a-half years by saying these nice things about the state of the alliance so that it's still there when Trump's gone."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The former chair of the Democratic National Committee responded to the latest special counsel indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking into the DNC's server during the 2016 presidential campaign by calling on President Donald Trump to "confront" Vladimir Putin about the allegations at their summit Monday.

"First of all, it is finally acknowledged that the hacking was a crime," Donna Brazile said of the indictment on the This Week roundtable. "At the time of the hacking, no one believed us. We didn't have anyone to come to our defense."

"When the country was under attack, the DNC was under attack, the DCCC and the Clinton campaign," said Brazile, who took over as interim chair of the DNC in the summer of 2016 after the first hacking and leak of DNC emails forced the resignation of former DNC chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "So here's what I'd like to say to the president: Confront Mr. Putin. Give him this document. Let him know that the United States will not tolerate another hacking of our elections."

"The most important thing now is that we know there are several witches, not some 400-pound guy sitting on the bed," Brazile added. "The president needs to acknowledge this and realize that he needs to protect and defend our democracy. The Russians took our emails, took our data and they could still use that information to try to sow discord and to try to damage our democratic institutions."

The special counsel Robert Mueller filed an indictment Friday charging 12 Russian intelligence officers with conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The indictment alleges that the dozen Russians worked in the GRU, Russia's intelligence body. The named defendants are specifically alleged to have taken part in a sustained effort to hack into the networks of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

In an excerpt from an interview with Trump with CBS News' Jeff Glor, the president said the DNC was to blame for the hacking.

"I heard that they were trying or people were trying to hack into the RNC too, the Republican National Committee, but we had much better defenses. I've been told that by a number of people. We had much better defenses so they couldn't," said Trump, who later conceded he "may be wrong" about Republican servers having better defense mechanisms in place.

"I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked," Trump added. "They had bad defenses and they were able to be hacked."

"President Trump this morning said that the Democratic party should be ashamed of itself," Brazile responded on "This Week." "Well, my response to the president is that there was no way we could go to Staples or Best Buy or Office Depot or OfficeMax to buy anti-GRU military intelligence software to protect and defend ourselves."

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As Vladimir Putin prepares to meet President Donald Trump Monday in Finland, in Moscow the first summit between the two men is widely seen as tilted in the Russian president's favor -- an opportunity for him to rebalance relations with the U.S. and break out somewhat from the isolation imposed on his nation since invading Ukraine in 2014.

The summit has sparked unusual predictions, in part because of an agenda that in some ways focuses on everything and nothing. No major, concrete outcomes are expected, but many in the U.S. and Europe have been nonetheless attributing epochal significance to the meeting, arguing it could mark the beginning of the end of the Western security order and the eventual unraveling of NATO.

Now added to that, the 12 new indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller against Russian intelligence agents for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have ignited a political storm at home as Trump meets with the man accused of ordering the operation.

The result is that the summit itself has been described as a win for Putin, with the risks disproportionately on the American side. In Moscow, many experts agree that the summit is a win-win for Putin, with things to gain and very little to lose, but they also said warnings and predictions emanating from Europe and the U.S. are overblown.

"Unlike what many assume in the West -- that Putin is sitting and laughing and expecting NATO to collapse -- it's not the case," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, who sometimes advises the government.

Trump='s rancorous NATO summit in Brussels this week, where reports surfaced that he'd warned the U.S. could "go it alone" if allies didn't contribute more, sparked dire warnings that the alliance's foundations were weakening.

But Russian observers see the drama around NATO more as political theater and an internal squabble than as something profoundly affecting Russia -- not least because ultimately Trump is pushing for a better-funded NATO.

"I think the perception here, widespread among both politicians and experts, is that the West will survive, NATO will survive," Lukyanov said. "There might be a lot of internal quarreling. "But, in general, no one expects this community to disappear."

Instead, experts said, the most realistic win for the Kremlin is restoring more-normal relations with the U.S., portraying Russia as turning a corner following its 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. The priority for the Russian side will be restore regular communication channels with the U.S. government that were effectively cut off by the Obama administration. For the past four years, those have been mostly frozen except for occasional talks between top-level officials and communications between the two countries' militaries to prevent clashes over Syria.

In Moscow, some believe there is a desire to break out of that.

"Helsinki will mark the first détente in the four-year-old Hybrid War between Russia and the United States," Dmitry Trenin, the influential director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote this week.

Trenin, like many experts and officials in Moscow and Washington, believes Russia and the U.S. have effectively been in conflict for four years, but in a conflict fought with unconventional means -— cyber-attacks, propaganda, espionage and economic sanctions, as well as through a proxy war in Syria.

The conflict has been compared to the Cold War, but some observers warn it currently lacks the diplomatic guardrails and understandings that managed that confrontation. Some experts therefore see Helsinki as set to play the role it did during the Cold War, as a place where U.S. and Russian leaders can bring down tensions in a longterm confrontation that's threatened to get out of control, producing a 21st-century detente for this 21st-century conflict.

"Make no mistake: U.S.-Russian relations will not be miraculously transformed as a result," Trenin wrote. "The Hybrid War will continue. But some rules will be laid down, and a measure of dialogue will be taking place."

Russian officials have been candid about re-establishing communication as a priority for the summit. On Saturday, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said, "Ideally, we would like to agree on the restoration of communication channels on all the difficult questions where our positions diverge."

"Success would be if we start to communicate normally," he said.

John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, has justified the summit on similar grounds, saying the two powers ought to be talking to one another.

The Kremlin is not aiming at friendly relations, experts said, but at a more realistic lowering of tensions, where they play less of a role in the relationship with Washington.

"There will be no major breakthrough. President Putin regards a meeting with the U.S. president not as a reward but as a resumption of normal business," Trenin wrote.

Officials and foreign policy experts in Europe and the U.S., however, believe that restoring normal ties though would reward the Kremlin when it has not changed its behavior -— more of a capitulation rather than a de-escalation.

But even among those advocating for Russia's continued isolation, many say more communication is desirable, particularly around nuclear arms control.

The Kremlin has also signalled it hopes the summit can help start building stronger economic ties to the U.S., with an aide to Putin telling reporters this week the Russian president will put some specific economic proposals to Trump. Syria also has been suggested as an area for renewed agreement despite Russian-backed offensives there that have violated the de-escalation zones previously agreed on by the U.S. and Russia.

Putin may well also coax Trump on his hints that he considers Crimea should be viewed as Russian, although it will be aware that Trump's ability to formally recognize Russia's annexation is limited given Congress has legislated never to do so.

Therefore the menu of potential benefits for Putin from the summit is broad even if expectations in Moscow remain restrained. The risks are largely on the U.S. side, Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council that has links with Russia's foreign ministry.

"There is a risk that Trump will promise something not quite so, or do something not quite so. Naturally, Trump needed to invest more political capital in this meeting," Kortunov said.

Potentially throwing a wrench into any detente, however, are new special counsel indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence hackers that lay out how they allegedly meddled in the 2016 election. The indictments have reignited a blaze under an issue that Trump already was under pressure to raise.

Russia, again, has already denied any involvement. Its foreign ministry denounced the indictments in typically florid tones, with Lavrov saying the investigation provides "no facts." Putin appears certain to repeat the same when he meets Trump.

Sticking with its blanket denial, the Kremlin sees election meddling as a distraction from its goals at the summit, even as it has become a political priority in the U.S.

U.S. officials have suggested Trump will push for a guarantee that Russia will leave the November midterms alone. Trenin suggested that with little real reason to target the vote, it could be a concession Putin is happy to make.

But the uproar in the U.S. around the indictments underlines why some observers in Moscow are skeptical over how long-lasting any possible détente from the summit can be.

"Remember what happened a year ago after their first negotiation," Lukyankov said. "The situation deteriorated abruptly and dramatically."

Their first full summit may bring down tensions briefly, he said, “but the temperature will be up again after, I don't know, two weeks' time."

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