Politics

‘Worst Enemy’: Trump Warns Putin Even as Second Summit in Works

U.S. president breaks with predecessors, criticizes Fed over rate hike

President Donald Trump warned Vladimir Putin and criticized the media and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in an interview with CNBC. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:51 a.m. | President Donald Trump continues to defend his Monday summit with Vladimir Putin and says he wants a second meeting soon — while also warning the Russian president he could become Putin’s “worst enemy.”

A day after his top spokeswoman announced Trump wants a follow-up summit in Washington this fall, the president said this of what would be a controversial visit by the Russian strongman who U.S. intelligence officials say led an interference operation in the 2016 presidential election: “I would say it’s in the works.”

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was unaware of the Putin invitation. He was informed by a reporter on stage Thursday at a security conference in Aspen, Colo.

The U.S. president has been under fire from Republican and Democratic members for being too conciliatory toward Putin during their Monday summit in Helsinki, Finland. But in an interview with CNBC that aired Friday morning, he tried a tougher line — though Putin was not standing a few feet away, like he was Monday during a joint news conference which GOP senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee say made Trump look weak and the United States look like, as the latter said, a “pushover.”

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Should future rounds of talks fail to produce deals on topics like counterterrorism, the situation in Syria, paring U.S. and Russian nuclear arms stockpiles and other matters, “I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had,” Trump told the network.

“If that doesn’t work out,” the president said, he would become Putin’s “worst nightmare.”

The new, tougher line contradicts Trump’s long-stated goal of warming relations with Putin, including his recent talk of making sure the countries with the world’s largest atomic arsenals “get along.”

Lawmakers from both parties were so troubled by Trump’s tone in Finland that a group is working on legislation that would slap new sanctions on Moscow if it again meddles in the 2018 midterm elections. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has signaled a vote on that legislation could happen in mere weeks, felt a need to send a message to Putin warning of retaliation if he again interferes as he and others are concerned Trump failed to do so.

But, ever the defiant contrarian, Trump again defended his Helsinki performance, including the news conference that former CIA Director John Brennan called “treasonous.” Trump at several points appeared to side with Putin over his own intel agencies on the 2016 meddling.

“I think it was a very good press conference,” said Trump, who blamed the “fake news” for skewing perceptions of it.

“I would like to see peace. I think we can do great things for the world,” he said. “I think I would have a good relationship with Putin.”

As his own Cabinet members, lawmakers and foreign policy experts try to diagnosis his affinity for Putin, Trump offered a clue about his ongoing courtship of the Russian strongman.

He blasted “fools from the media” who criticized his performance, saying he asked this after sampling some post-Helsinki coverage: “Are these people crazy?”

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“I want to make a deal,” he said. “I’m different from other presidents, I’m a dealmaker.”

The president’s comments about the Federal Reserve’s decision this week to hike interest rates also highlighted how he differs from his predecessors.

“I don’t necessarily agree with it, because he’s raising interest rates,” Trump said of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, whom he reminded viewers — and perhaps Powell himself — that he appointed.

“I’m not saying that I agree it. I must tell you, I don’t. I’m not thrilled,” he said. “Everytime you (the economy) go up, they raise rates again.” He also criticized the move because of his perception it will drive up the value of the U.S. dollar too high at a time countries like China are seeing their currencies “dropping like a rock.”

He echoed himself in a pair of tweets Friday morning during his "executive time" in the White House residence, again painting America - and its world-leading economy - as a victim.

While his comment was clearly a message to Powell and the other Fed commissioners, the president claimed to be “letting them do what they feel is best.”

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