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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

The chairman for Ohio’s Belmont County Republicans was sitting in his law firm’s office on Monday when the press conference between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin began.

At the time the local GOP official, Chris Gagin, an attorney with McCamic, Sacco & McCoid, was still satisfied with his political role in rural Belmont County: working to get Republicans who support the economic growth of southeast Ohio’s coal country elected to public office.

He’d turned on the coverage of the press conference to “see how the President handled himself” on the global stage, not necessarily expecting to feel particularly jarred or mobilized to leave the county position he has held since April 2016.

“When there was that final question that was directly posed to Trump, ‘Do you believe the intelligence community or Putin?’ and when he wouldn’t say that he believes our intelligence community over the Russian president and when he said that Putin had been ‘very strong’ and forceful in his denials, something just snapped,” Gagin told TPM Tuesday. “When (Trump’s) most fundamental obligation is to represent the security interest of the United States, that was my last straw.”

Gagin emailed a resignation letter to the rest of his committee “immediately” after the press conference, feeling that as a county party chairman, whose job is “purely political,” he couldn’t continue in the role, especially leading up to a midterm and presidential election cycle that’s bound to be dominated by Trump-aligned candidates.

“Heading into 2020, if you’re not fully committed to the President and his policy — I mean, our objective is to get candidates elected,” he said.

Trump unilaterally shocked the masses, including his own staff, on Monday when he went off the rails during the freewheeling presser with Putin. When asked point-blank “who do you believe” regarding the U.S. intelligence community’s sweeping assessment that Russian interfered in the 2016 election, Trump waffled. He said he didn’t see “any reason why it would be (Russia)” in the same breath that he touted his “great confidence in my intelligence people,” while seconds later praising Putin for being “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trump’s behavior sparked immediate outrage. Current and former government officials and lawmakers reacted with disbelief. Former intelligence officials labeling Trump as Putin’s puppet. Even his most ardent supporters in conservative media were deeply critical.

Despite a staggering amount of calls for “patriots” to resign in objection to Trump’s performance at the summit Monday, Gagin said he might be “the only one in the country” who felt he couldn’t stay in his position with good conscience. One former Iowa state lawmaker — Ken Rizer — did announce in a Facebook post after the summit on Monday that he had left the Republican Party over Trump’s “misguided leadership” on the foreign policy front.

While he anticipates being “ostracized locally,” Gagin’s “pretty sure” he will be one of the few who quits in objection to what some are calling the darkest moment in American history, especially given he’s a more moderate Republican who switched to the GOP in 2013 after feeling that Democrats had “moved too far left.”

“Unless you have an attack of conscience, there’s nothing forcing you to do anything. … Unless someone in the intelligence community makes that decision, I don’t think you’ll see (more). There’s too many fearful of going against the President in the Republican Party and, quite frankly, there is nowhere else to go,” he said.

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At least two state- and local-level Republicans have resigned or left the Republican Party over President Donald Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

A county Republican Party chairman, Chris Gagin, serving in southeast Ohio, announced he was resigning via Twitter on Monday, explicitly citing Trump’s remarks at the press conference as rationale for his departure, saying he could no longer support Trump’s agenda as a Republican Party leader, Cleveland.com was first to report.

In Iowa, a former state lawmaker and retired Air Force pilot, Ken Rizer, said he was leaving the Republican Party because of Trump’s “erratic and misguided leadership” on foreign affairs, according to the Des Moines Register.

Several former intelligence officials, including former FBI Director James Comey and Former CIA Director John Brennan, have called on “patriots,” including members of Trump’s national security team, to resign in objection to Trump’s behavior at the summit. Following a closed-door, one-on-one meeting with Putin, Trump shocked the masses by publicly offering his support of Putin’s denial of Russian meddling and blaming both the U.S. and Russia for the decline in relations between the two nations.  

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Following President Trump’s unhinged presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin, former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing has fueled parts of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and Russian meddling in the election, urged “patriots” to speak out.

“Patriots need to stand up and reject the behavior of this President,” he tweeted.

Trump has been criticized by dozens of lawmaker and former intelligence officials for his performance during a press conference with Putin Monday, when he offered his support of Putin’s denial of Russian meddling and blamed both the U.S. and Russia for the decline in relations between the two nations.  

Comey’s full-throated criticism of the President is notable, but hardly surprising. Comey’s been engaged in a publicity tour for months promoting the book he wrote about his firing. Despite admitting to it in an interview shortly after he ousted Comey that the “Russia thing” prompted his decision to fire Comey, Trump has since denied that rationale.

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In the days leading up to his planned summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, aides spent hours preparing President Donald Trump to take a tough stance on Putin, advice that was largely ignored by the President, The Washington Post reported.

According to one person familiar with the planning who spoke to the Post, Trump’s behavior during the press conference with Putin was “very much counter to the plan.” Another person familiar with the discussions said ahead of the meeting the President was bombarded with messages about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its election interference and was surrounded by advisers who told him to posture strong against Putin.

Prominent members of Trump’s national security team, like National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, even tried to push Trump to take a hard stance against Putin or at the very least, look at Putin in a less rosy light.  

But Trump “made a game-time decision” to blame both the U.S. and Russia for disintegrated relations and to publicly support Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to the Post. One official who spoke with the newspaper denied that Trump’s remarks in Finland were autonomous.

Read the Post’s full report here. 

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Just minutes after he left journalists, lawmakers and former government officials in shock when he sided with Russia during a freewheeling press conference with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump doubled down on his support of Putin’s denial of Russian meddled in the 2016 election.

Recounting his one-on-one conversation with Putin during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the presser, Trump lamented that the Russia probe had placed a “wedge” between the U.S. and Russia

It is very sad what is happening to our country because of this,” he said. “When you see this thing going on and I will tell you, it has driven a wedge between us and Russia, maybe we’ve just knocked down that wedge, but it has driven a wedge and President Putin said, one of the early things that he said when we started, it’s really a shame because we could do so much good.”

He also grumbled that journalists chose to ask questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe during the press conference, when they could’ve asked about “nuclear proliferation” or humanitarian aid in Syria.

And we get questions on the witch hunt and I don’t think the people out in the country buy it, but the reporters like to give it a shot,” he said. “I thought that President Putin was very, very strong. … And he also said there’s absolutely no collusion, which you know and everybody that watches your show knows, and I think most of the country knows and and Tucker [Carlson] standing right over there definitely knows because he gets it.”

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House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Monday released a blistering statement reiterating that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and calling on a number of officials on President Trump’s team to inform him that “it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with out election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.”

Read Gowdy’s full statement below:

Russia is not our friend. Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans. Our intelligence community, including the current one, concluded this, as did the Majority House Intelligence Committee report, as did our fellow Americans who served on grand juries which returned true bills on two separate occasions. I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued a statement on Monday forcefully combatting statements President Donald Trump made standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, when Trump claimed he didn’t “see any reason why it would be [Russia]” that meddled in the 2016 election after Putin said the country did not.

Ryan said there was “no question” that Russia interfered in the election and urged Trump to “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. 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.”

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Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper joined the chorus of lawmakers, U.S. officials and former intelligence operatives who were dumbfounded by President Donald Trump’s performance during a presser with Putin.

Clapper said Trump’s meek behavior was “amazing and very, very disturbing.”

“You know, like everyone else, I’m struggling with some way to capture or describe what we just witnessed. It is truly unbelievable,” he told CNN Monday. “On the world stage in front of the entire globe, the President of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin. So it was amazing and very, very disturbing.”

“He just is very reticent about direct personal confrontation,” he continued. “So just as he did in the UK with Theresa May, bad mouth her in an interview, but yet when faced with a personal confrontation, a personal engagement, he won’t do it. It’s even worse when it’s our arch adversary, Russia, and his opposite person, Vladimir Putin. … While he likes to project the image of being a tough guy, he really isn’t.”

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Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) issued a harsh retort to President Donald Trump’s unprecedented behavior during a presser with Vladimir Putin, countering Trump’s assertion that the U.S. is also to blame for the decline in relations with Russia and calling Trump’s comments “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Former CIA Director John Brennan reacted to President Donald Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin with outrage on Monday, calling on Trump’s secretary of state, national security adviser and chief of staff to resign over the President’s behavior.

I cannot understand how the national security team can continue to abide by this and how Pompeo and Bolton and Kelly can continue in their jobs,” he told MSNBC after the press conference on Monday. “This, I think, rises to the point of good American patriots resigning in objection to that performance by Donald Trump. I’m at a loss of words to describe just how outrageous his words, his statements, his behavior has been.

“And one can only conclude that he fears Vladimir Putin and that one-on-one discussion, who knows what was discussed there,’ he continued. “And how Mr. Putin now is the master puppeteer of Donald Trump, the person who is in our oval office. Outrageous.”

Brennan tweeted similar remarks minutes earlier, calling the performance “treasonous.”

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