Several Republican lawmakers condemned President Trump Monday, following his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he appeared conciliatory toward the autocratic leader.
During the press conference, Trump criticized the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s efforts to indict several Russian nationals for their part in that meddling. He pinpointed Mueller’s most recent indictment of 12 GRU officers — or Russian military intelligence — who are alleged to have worked together to hack the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee servers, as well as the email accounts of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staffers, suggesting that the real problem was actually Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails, which were deleted from her private server years earlier.
The president also said he trusted Putin, who has repeatedly denied playing any part in the 2016 election meddling, despite the fact that intelligence officials have long stated the opposite.
“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said. “I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the [DNC] server.”
Trump also said Putin had offered to “analyze” whatever intelligence the administration had on the 12 GRU officers, so that the two countries could work together on the investigation, an offer Trump called “incredible.”
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that president Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is incredible offer,” he said. “He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people, I think that’s an incredible offer, okay, thank you.”
In the aftermath of that press conference, several Republican legislators issued strong condemnations of the president’s assessment, many of them suggesting Russia should be held accountable for its interference campaign.
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated, declining to call out the president directly. “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.”
Ryan continued, insisting there was “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,” he said.
— Ben Pershing (@benpershing) July 16, 2018
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was far less forgiving.
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” he said in a statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. 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.”
He added, “Today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. …No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”
Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018
Others took a less aggressive stance, choosing to focus on Russia’s history of antagonistic behavior toward the United States, rather than Trump’s press conference comments themselves.
“Russia is not our friend,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) stated. “Russia attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans. …I am confident [Trump’s CIA, DNI, FBI, and DOJ officials] 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. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) echoed those comments saying in a statement, “Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Our nation’s top intelligence agencies all agree on that point. From the President on down, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy […].”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) chided Trump for missing the opportunity to “firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
It is imperative that Congress hold hearings on the extent and scope of any cooperation with Russia in Syria regarding Iran’s presence.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” he tweeted.
Several other Republican members of Congress criticized Trump’s comments during the press conference, including Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
A handful of Republicans appeared supportive of Trump’s comments Monday, issuing glowing reviews of his press conference appearance and praising him for furthering diplomatic relations with Russia.
“From @realDonaldTrump and I couldn’t agree more: ‘…open new pathways to peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace, then to risk peace in pursuit of politics,'” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) tweeted late Monday morning.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) sidestepped suggestions that Trump had gone off the rails at the press conference, telling Bloomberg TV in an interview that the United States “[interferes in Russian elections] at a much higher rate” than Russia.
JUST IN: VP Pence offers a rose-colored view of Trump's Putin summit: "What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first."
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) July 16, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence was completely dismissive of the negative feedback among Republicans Monday. Speaking at the Department of Commerce, he challenged assertions that Trump had acquiesced to Putin’s denials of Russian interference.
“What the world saw, what the American people saw, is that President Donald Trump will always put the prosperity and security of America first,” he said, according to NBC News’ Peter Alexander.