By Alistair Smout and Jeff Mason
TURNBERRY/GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump played golf on Saturday at his course on the western coast of Scotland ahead of a summit with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin that could be overshadowed by accusations that Russians meddled in the U.S. 2016 election.
In an uproarious trip to Europe, Trump harangued members of the NATO military alliance, scolded Germany for its dependence on Russian energy and shocked Britain by publicly criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.
Trump apologized to May for the furor over his withering public critique, blaming “fake news” and promising instead a bilateral trade agreement with Britain after it leaves the European Union in March.
While Trump took tea with Queen Elizabeth, a U.S. federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with stealing data from the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly said the investigation into suspected Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election – which he casts as a “rigged witch hunt” – makes it hard for him to do substantive deals with Moscow.
After meeting the queen at Windsor Castle, Trump headed to Scotland, where his mother, Mary Anne, was born. Trump, wearing a baseball cap emblazoned with “USA”, was seen by two Reuters reporters playing golf on his Turnberry Trump course.
Describing golf as “my primary form of exercise,” Trump wrote on Twitter: “The weather is beautiful, and this place is incredible! Tomorrow I go to Helsinki for a Monday meeting with Vladimir Putin.”
While at the Turnberry course on Friday evening, an activist for the Greenpeace environmental campaign group swooped on a powered parachute within a few hundred yards of the president as he stood outside the golf course’s hotel.
Trump moved calmly inside as the parachute approached, surrounded by his security detail. British police said they were trying to trace the pilot.
After tens of thousands of people marched peacefully against Trump in central London, more protests are planned on Saturday. A blimp depicting Trump as an orange, snarling baby was raised in the Scottish capital where hundreds protested.
At Turnberry, Trump waved at protesters who were chanting “No Trump” just a few hundred yards away on a beach beside the course. He appeared to say something to them. They booed.
“I’m here as a quiet protester to say: I really don’t want this man in our country,” said Graham Creelman, 70, who joined a small protest on the beach.
“The government needs to take a stand against appalling attitudes and appalling behavior, and we’re not doing it.”
British Trade Secretary Liam Fox said anti-Trump protesters were an embarrassment to themselves as they had shown bad manners to the leader of the free world.
Around 100 supporters of Trump, some wearing “Make Britain Great Again” hats, expressed their admiration for the president opposite the U.S. embassy in London.
DONALD AND VLADIMIR
Trump and Putin, who control the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals, are due to meet in the Finnish capital, a venue that evokes memories of Cold War showdowns between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Trump, a 72-year-old former New York real estate developer who praises his own dealmaking skills, and Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy who cultivates a macho image as a Russian man of action, are due to have some time alone at the summit.
In the most detailed U.S. accusation to date that Moscow meddled in the presidential election, a federal grand jury said Russian military intelligence agency officers covertly monitored computers of Clinton’s campaign and Democratic campaign committees, and stole large amounts of data.
The charges shine an even greater spotlight on Trump’s treatment of Putin, who has repeatedly denied Russia sought to intervene or skew the U.S. election that Trump, a Republican, unexpectedly won.
Trump questioned why Barack Obama had not acted on claims of Russian meddling if the FBI had informed the then president ahead of the 2016 election. He also asked where the Democratic National Committee server now was.
“Why didn’t the FBI take possession of it? Deep State?” Trump asked on Twitter.
When asked at a news conference on Friday whether he would tell Putin to stay out of U.S. elections, Trump said “yes.”
The president also indicated he did not expect much progress on the issue. “I will absolutely bring that up,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me.'”
(Additional reporting by James Davey, Alex Fraser and Michael Holden in London, Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mark Potter and Edmund Blair)