President Donald Trump ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill following his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The political salvos came from both sides of the aisle after Trump on Monday stopped far short of condemning Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and appeared to take Putin’s denial at face value.
“My people came to me – Dan Coats came to me, some others – they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Putin, referring to the director of national intelligence. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
US intelligence agencies and officials, including Coats, have given a scathing assessment of Russia’s actions and concluded it used cyberattacks and other means to meddle in the election. Just three days before the summit, the special counsel Robert Mueller also indicted a dozen Russian intelligent officers suspected of interfering with the election.
Trump later backtracked his comments, saying in a tweet that he had “GREAT confidence” in the US intelligence community. But to some lawmakers, his support came too little, too late.
Here’s what Republican lawmakers had to say about Trump’s remarks:
Sen. John McCain of Arizona
In a scathing rebuke, McCain called Trump’s press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said. “But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin
Ryan agreed with US intelligence assessments in saying “there is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world.”
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” Ryan added. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Graham expressed disappointment in Trump’s words at the press conference.
“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections,” Graham said on Twitter. “This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine
Collins blistered at Trump’s remarks. “It’s certainly not helpful for the president to express doubt about the conclusions of his own team,” Collins said to reporters, according to CNN.
“He has assembled a first-rate intelligence team handled by Dan Coats, and I would hope that he would take their analysis over the predictable denials of President Putin.”
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee
Corker said Putin made the US look like a “pushover.”
“When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency that he gave between them and what Putin was saying,” Corker said on CNN.
He reportedly added that he “did not think this was a good moment for our country.”
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona
Flake, who has frequently criticised Trump’s policies, called Trump’s comments “shameful.”
“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression,” Flake said on Twitter.
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina
Gowdy said in a statement that Russia “attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans.”
Gowdy also expressed hope that the White House “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.”
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska
Sasse described Trump’s comparison between Russia and the US as “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”
“The United States is not to blame,” Sasse said in a statement. “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.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah
Hatch sided with the conclusion drawn from US intelligence officials. “Our nation’s top intelligence agencies all agree on that point,” he said in a statement.
“From the president on down, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy by securing future elections from foreign influence and interference, regardless of what Vladimir Putin or any other Russian operative says.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina
Scott conveyed his disappointment on Twitter. “The President’s summit in Helsinki today should have been an attempt at confronting Russian aggression, hacking, and election interference,” Scott said.
“Russia is not a friend or ally. As Americans, we stand up for our interests and values abroad; but I fear today was a step backwards.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming
Cheney said on Twitter that Russia posed “a grave threat to our national security” and that she was “deeply troubled by President Trump’s defence of Putin against the intelligence agencies.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis of Florida
DeSantis agreed with the US intelligence assessment and said “the intel report and the indictment are credible in terms of assigning blame, culpability to Russia,” but he stopped short of criticising Trump.
“And I think that’s what bugs him about the issue, is that it’s used to try to delegitimize his election victory,” DeSantis said.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California
During a CNN appearance, Issa called Putin “an evil man who has killed many people in his own country,” but he also questioned the methods of US intelligence agencies that concluded Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
“Did we use spy technique in order to find out?” Issa asked. “Did we hack them in order to find out who they were? So, I think for the president to cast doubt is appropriate.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky
As one of the few Republicans who publicly approved of Trump’s remarks, Paul took a stand and said he was “absolutely” with the president.
“I think engagement with our adversaries, conversations with our adversaries, is a good idea,” Paul said during an interview on CNN.
“I think there is a bit of Trump-derangement syndrome,” Paul said. “I think there are people who hate the president so much that this could’ve easily been President Obama early in his first administration setting the reset button and trying to have better relations with Russia.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California
Rohrabacher, who has been sympathetic toward Russia, justified Trump’s remarks by telling Bloomberg the US meddled with elections “at a much higher rate.”
“They found it in their interest to meddle in our elections,” Rohrabacher said. “But what the point is – we meddle in their elections. We meddle all over the world at a much higher rate than what Moscow does. And maybe it’s all wrong, but the fact is we helped overthrow the government of Ukraine.”
Vice President Mike Pence
Pence downplayed concerns and appeared to support Trump’s comments: “What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first.”
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