Annapolis, Md. – Iraq War veteran Chris Sheppard fumed as he watched President Trump’s joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

The former combat engineer with the U.S. Marine Corps sat glued to his cellphone screen in his downtown Seattle office, watching live on Monday as the American president suggested he believed Putin’s denial that his agents interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. Trump also declined to say whether he believed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered.

Sheppard, who left the military after 13 years in 2005 and is now a tax attorney, couldn’t believe his ears.

“It’s like I’m watching somebody commit treason,” he said of Trump.

But former U.S. Marine Boe Bostjancic, a 61-year-old Virginia Beach resident, said while he didn’t particularly care for Trump’s performance in Helsinki, the president was acting like the same politically incorrect leader he voted for and still supports.

“At least I can respect the fact that he was honest with us,” Bostjancic said.

Sheppard and Bostjancic represent the mixed views among former members of the U.S. military to Trump’s comments: Some say they are a betrayal, with the commander in chief giving more credence to Putin’s word than to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies and creating a hardship for those who serve and put their lives on the line. Others say Trump’s relationship with Putin, whatever it may be, is positive for the U.S., and won’t change their minds about their president.

Trump on Tuesday said he simply misspoke in Helsinki and accepted the conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the election hacking, but then on Wednesday he appeared to defend his original remarks.

Those who spoke with The Associated Press largely didn’t buy his change in tone – or said it didn’t matter.

Sheppard, 43, a self-described reluctant Democrat who became disenfranchised with the Republican party during the Iraq War, characterized Trump’s performance in Helsinki as “a national tragedy.”

“I honestly felt like Trump wasn’t representing the collective interests of Americans. He looked like he was representing the interests of Vladimir Putin.”

Kate Handley, a 22-year Navy veteran whose husband is still on active duty, said Trump’s reluctance to fully support American intelligence agencies also undermines the U.S. military.

“He’s throwing the military under the bus when he throws the intelligence community under the bus,” said Handley, 52, of Chesapeake, Virginia. “Everything we do – every deployment – is based on a reason. And it’s often based on (information) the intelligence community has.”


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