Politics

Trump Sets Notably Low Bar for Putin Summit

President also calls European Union a ‘foe’ on trade matters

President Donald Trump waves while playing a round of golf on Sunday at Trump Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort in Turnberry, Scotland, during his first official visit to the United Kingdom. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Updated 10:43 a.m. | President Donald Trump has a message for his critics about his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin: Don’t worry, it’ll be fine — just trust me. And, in a stunning remark, he called the European Union a “foe” of the United States on trade matters.

Trump continues to set low expectations for Monday’s summit with Putin amid concerns he could give into the Russian leader’s demands while getting little — if anything — in return. 

Intentionally or not, Trump’s remarks amount to an admission Putin will come to Helsinki with a hard line on issues ranging from Ukraine to Syria to his government’s campaign to upend the last U.S. presidential election.

“I go in with low expectations,” Trump said in an interview with CBS News, part of which is set to air Sunday morning. “I’m not going with high expectations.”

The U.S. president, who was interviewed at the golf resort in Scotland that he has plugged at least three times during his European trip, also vowed that “nothing bad” will come out of the much-anticipated Putin summit.

“I think it’s a good thing to meet. I do believe in meetings. I believe that having a meeting with Chairman Kim was a good thing,” he said of North Korea’s supreme leader whom he met last month in Singapore. “I think having meetings with the president of China was a very good thing. I believe it’s really good. So having meetings with Russia, China, North Korea, I believe in it.”

[Trump Should Cancel Putin Summit Over Indictments, Democrats Say]

“Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out,” he said.

Trump also sent a stern message to America’s European allies just days after a rocky NATO summit in Belgium. 

“I think the European Union is a foe,” he told CBS News. “What they do to us on trade. … EU is very difficult. … In a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us.” And he again criticized the German government for a gas pipeline deal with Moscow, saying Berlin essentially waved a “white flag” in Western efforts to be tougher on Putin.

He also listed Russia “in certain respects” and China on economic matters when asked to list America’s top global foes.

Hill worries

Even Republican lawmakers are worried about the Putin meeting, a rare public acknowledgement of their heartburn over Trump’s unconventional approach.

“He better know the right Russian psyche,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who led a GOP delegation to Russia earlier this month. “All he’s got to do is start with Stalin and come on up and see what’s changed.”

Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake wants Trump to tell Putin his 2014 invasion and occupation of the Crimea region of Ukraine is “illegal” and his activities in Syria are “detrimental.” He described U.S. allies in Europe, where he recently visited, as “afraid about what our president might agree to,” and he told reporters he “very much” shares their worries.

Watch: Rosenstein Announces Indictment of 12 Russian Officials

The Trump-Putin summit is still on despite a Friday bombshell from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who indicted a dozen Russian military officers for their efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. The indictment document points a finger at a prominent Russian intelligence service; Putin is a former intelligence officer who keeps a close hold over his spy agencies, a signal he likely was heavily involved in the election interference effort.

Some leading congressional Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, want Trump to cancel the summit to send a message to Putin. Former President Barack Obama did so in 2013 after the Edward Snowden fracas.

[Indictment: Congressional Candidate Sought Info From Russians]

“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections,” Schumer said in a Friday statement.

During the CBS News interview, Trump never criticized the Kremlin or Putin for the meddling in America’s election. Instead, as he has done repeatedly in recent days, he changed the subject to Obama and his team.

“But again, this was during the Obama administration,” the president said, echoing tweets he fired off Saturday from Scotland. “They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.”

Of those 12 Russian military officers, Trump told CBS News the idea of asking Putin to send them to the United States to face trial had not crossed his mind until anchor Jeff Glor asked him about the idea. (The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Russia.)

“Well, I might,” Trump said when Glor asked about possibly extraditing the Russians. “I hadn’t thought of that. But I certainly, I’ll be asking about it.”

On Friday, during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump vowed to press Putin about election interference — though he told reporters he does not expect a “Perry Mason” moment in which the Russian strongman would reverse his public denials and come clean.

Trump was asked about the testimony of Peter Strzok, an embattled FBI agent who sent texts sharply critical of candidate Trump, vowing to prevent him from winning the 2016 election. He called his testimony last week to two House panels a “disgrace to our country.”

“And then he lied about it. And you know, talking about shutting it down and ‘we, we.’ And he says ‘Oh, I meant the American people’ all of a sudden, you know, he came up with excuses,” the president said, adding that the incident harms relations with other countries.

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