We Don't Trust Russia or Putin, Haley Says as Trump Backtracks on Helsinki Summit

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defended President Donald Trump's recent one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisting that Russia was “never going to be our friend.”

The Trump-Putin summit, which took place in Finland last week, capped a calamitous trip to Europe during which the U.S. leader appeared to delight in unnerving allies by criticizing the leaders of Germany and the United Kingdom, all while questioning the purpose of NATO.

After the meeting, however, Trump appeared much less confrontational, piling blame on the U.S. for poor ties with Russia and suggesting he believed Putin's denial of election meddling over his own intelligence agencies' conclusion on the matter. "President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump said.

In an apparent volte-face, Trump later said he had misspoken: "I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't,' and the sentence should have been: 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.'"

Haley tried to offer reassurance, saying Trump's meeting with his Russian counterpart should not call into question the administration's stance on the Kremlin.

“First of all, we don't trust Russia, we don't trust Putin, we never will,” Haley told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “They're never going to be our friend. That's just a fact.”

The fact that Trump's comments came after a long, private meeting with Putin, with no definitive readout of what the pair discussed, has amplified scrutiny over Trump's degree of trust in Russia. Moscow officials repeatedly cited “agreements” struck during the summit, while U.S. officials appeared to still be in the dark about the exact talking points days afterward.

Trump further intensified the confusion when his press secretary announced on Twitter that Putin would be invited to Washington for a second meeting in the fall. Haley, however, insisted the fallout around Helsinki was not indicative of any special affinity Trump has with Putin.

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Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speak to reporters at U.N. headquarters on July 20. Haley has repeatedly expressed a tougher view on Russia than the president. Kena Betancur/Getty Images

“He did that with Kim,” she said, referring to Trump's summit with North Korea's leader. “He's done it with other leaders. He did it with President Xi of China, and that's just his way. He feels like he can get more out of them if he goes one-on-one like that. It's his style. It's the way he does it,” she said. Trump's next meeting with Putin will be very different, Haley predicted.

“You're going to see their next meetings are going to have people in them, the working groups are going to come together, all of those things. But he's always thought just to create that genuine reality of the two of them talking, he feels like he needs to do it face-to-face.”

Although concerns over Trump's apparent fondness for Putin preceded his inauguration, Haley has repeatedly been one of the administration's toughest talking officials on Russia. She went on the record in the first few months of the administration to allay fears that Trump was taking Russia's side, stating that Moscow “definitely” tried to meddle in U.S. elections and that Trump had given her license to go “beating up on Russia” whenever necessary. She admitted that her views sometimes clashed with those of the president but said that she aired her grievances with him behind the scenes.

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“I can tell you, I met with the president this morning for an hour,” she said. “There were some things that he may have liked [about] what I said and some things that he may not have liked. But he asked me what my thoughts are, and I tell him the truth, but I tell him in private.

“What I do think is, whether it's the president sitting down with Kim or whether the president sits down with Putin, those are things that have to happen,” Haley said. “You can't get to the end of the other side if you don't have those conversations.”