U.S. President Donald Trump is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to a second summit meeting. The announcement came as the storm of criticism and confusion that followed the first summit is still making headlines and getting the attention of the U.S. Congress. Here to explain is VOA’s Carolyn Presutti at the White House.
U.S. President Donald Trump is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to a second summit meeting. The announcement came as the storm of criticism and confusion that followed the first summit is still making headlines and getting the attention of the U.S. Congress. Here to explain is VOA’s Carolyn Presutti at the White House.
The top law enforcement official overseeing the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is defending the prosecution of foreign agents who may never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom.
Speaking Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also said the Justice Department will notify the U.S. public when it identifies efforts by foreign government to target U.S. politics. Rosenstein unveiled a report identifying the major cyber threats that the U.S. faces.
“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” he said. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”
He offered a rebuttal to criticism that charging foreign agents involved in cyber-attacks or covert campaigns to sow dissent is futile if they are unlikely to be extradited.
“That is a shortsighted view,” he said.
Indictments as deterrent
The debate has been sparked by the probe of special counsel Robert Mueller, who has indicted more than two dozen Russian nationals on charges related to Russia’s meddling in the election.
Rosenstein said such indictments can act as a deterrent.
“People who thought they were safely under the protection of foreign governments when they committed crimes against America sometimes later find themselves in federal prisons,” he said.
He added that at a minimum, the indictments impede the suspects from traveling to other countries that might extradite them. He said revealing the charges also serves to air the allegations to the U.S. public, bolstering confidence in the justice system.
More active approach
Rosenstein signaled a more active approach by the Justice Department to counter foreign influence and cyber operations. The report outlines how the department will work to expose the foreign efforts without damaging counter-intelligence efforts or wading into U.S. politics.
“The challenge calls for the application of neutral principles,” he said.
More broadly, the report identifies six categories of cyber threats and current efforts to counter them.
Days ahead of the first-ever ministerial talks hosted by the State Department to advance religious freedom around the world, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching on Thursday, addressing pressing issues including the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya, the repression of Uighurs Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists in China, and Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine. Below is an edited transcript.
Question: On the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims with the Buddhists being the majority in Myanmar, the purge against Rohingya sometimes is characterized by some as religious cleansing. At the same time, killing is the worst crime for Buddhism and for many religions. Would you go further to identify the Rohingya crisis as religious cleansing?”
Answer: Well the State Department made a decision at the end of last year to make the important statement about ethnic cleansing and we know that there is a religious connection there. It is incredibly important to be careful of the language that we use, so we will continue to review it but as you well know, the State Department considers religious freedom at the center of its activity, we make that a priority in all of the work that we do and in places in Asia, that is absolutely no exception.
Question: Would you consider a comprehensive arms embargo and more targeted financial sanctions against top Burmese military leaders for their involvement of the Rohingya purge.”
Answer: I don’t want to get out of hand with the president on this but you should know we take these issues incredibly seriously and your viewers should know that as well. There are many things that are under consideration by this administration. We want to see the course changing, we want to see the directional change here. We’ve not seen that yet. And so there are many things that are being considered by the United States government to ensure that everyone understands that their behavior is not acceptable.
Question: In China, the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report documented the repression against the Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. First of all, how would you respond to the assertion from the Chinese government that some of the groups are separatists? And secondly, would you consider a travel ban or working with the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S. assets of those Chinese officials who are involved in such repression.”
Answer: So the State Department has made clear that with respect to this issue we think they are on the wrong side on religious freedom, that they are a country of concern connected to that. We understand that religious freedom is at risk in many places in the world and yet the United States has complex broad relationships with many countries, including China across economic and military and political sets of issues. Your viewers should know the United States also puts religious freedom as a fundamental human right at the very center of discussions with every country with whom we interact.”
Question: Religious freedom is a universal value as you mentioned. How would you respond to the Chinese assertion that some of the surveillance programs are to prevent a terrorist attack?”
Answer: Well I don’t to want comment. Every country does work to make sure that their citizens are safe, but we should never – no country should ever use that effort – [under] the guise of a counter terrorism investigation to persecute religious freedom. Religious freedom is separate and apart from that. Every human by nature of their dignity as a human being deserves the capacity to worship in the way that they want to worship, or if they chose not to worship at all so be it. No one should be punished by their government for their religious beliefs or their religious activities connected to those beliefs.
Question: While we are sitting here, critics, including State Department’s own report, said that in Eastern Ukraine, Russia-led forces continue to occupy religious buildings of religious minority groups for the use of military facilities. You were at Helsinki. Was that a good meeting? How were Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine being discussed?
Answer: “So I’ve seen those reports about the Russian’s use of religious facilities. That’s never acceptable. It violates all sorts of central premises about nations ought to be able to use religious facilities to protect your forces, creates real challenges. With respect to Helsinki, President Trump made clear to Vladimir Putin that their activities in eastern Ukraine weren’t in Russia’s best interest. This administration has been incredibly tough. We’ve provided support to the Ukrainian forces there in southeast Ukraine, that the previous administration – who repeatedly refused to do. We think this creates a space for the Ukrainian people to have a successful election come 2019 and we are very very hopeful that that situation will resolve itself as America has made its continued commitment to support the Ukrainian people’s desires.”
Question: Speaking of Russia, Mr. Secretary, there has also been a lot of concern over the Russian proposal to question former ambassador McFaul. Do you have anything on that topic?
Answer: Yeah, I’d like to stop you. It’s not going to happen. The Russians made a proposal about a number of things during the course of the conversation between President Trump and President Putin. There were suggestions, comments, thoughts by President Putin with respect to that inquiry. President trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians. There’s been a lot of noise about that, I don’t know why. Just the American people should rest assured.”
The U.S. has no intention of allowing Russia to question Michael McFaul, Washington’s former ambassador to Moscow and a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told VOA on Thursday.
“It’s not going to happen,” the top U.S. diplomat said in an interview at the State Department.
Pompeo said Putin “made a proposal about a number of things during the course of the conversation” he had Monday at his Helsinki summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
“There were suggestions, comments, thoughts by President Putin with respect to that inquiry,” Pompeo told VOA. “President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.”
The Russian leader proposed to let U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators fly to Moscow to interview 12 military intelligence officials indicted in connection with hacking into computers of Democrats working to defeat Trump in the 2016 election in exchange for Russian interviews of McFaul; an American-born British businessman, Bill Browder, who worked to get legislation passed in the U.S. and elsewhere to sanction Russia for human rights violations, and other Americans.
Browder was convicted in absentia for tax fraud in Russia and Putin claimed, without any evidence, that Browder laundered $400 million out of Russia and gave it to Trump’s 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. No such political donation occurred.
McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 2012 to 2014 during the administration of former President Barack Obama, said on Twitter, “I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”
On Wednesday, there was a high-level disconnect within the Trump administration over a possible Russian interview with McFaul.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the unspecified Russian crimes against the Americans “absurd,” suggesting that no questioning would be permitted. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the idea of each country’s investigators questioning people it wanted to in the United States and Russia was being weighed.
“The president’s going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” Sanders said, adding that no one had made any commitment to accept Putin’s offer.
By Thursday, Sanders said, “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”
Russia and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty and the 12 accused intelligence officials are not expected to be turned over to the U.S. for trial.
The reason for the confusion about questioning officials from the two countries came because Trump said Putin had made “an incredible offer” to him.
During Thursday’s interview with VOA, Secretary of State Pompeo sought to clarify the U.S. stance on the issue, repeating such questioning would not be permitted.
“There’s been a lot of noise about that, I don’t know why,” Pompeo said. “Just the American people should rest assured.”
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report
Days ahead of the first-ever ministerial talks hosted by the State Department to advance religious freedom around the world, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sat down with VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching on Thursday, addressing pressing issues including the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya, the repression of Uighurs Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists in China, and Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine.
Lawmakers are losing patience with the Trump administration’s reliance on tariffs to win trade disputes and are talking increasingly about legislative action to protect U.S. jobs.
A senior Republican senator has threatened legislation to curb President Donald Trump’s trade actions, and other senators joined him on Wednesday in promising a complementary bill. Meanwhile, lawmakers are using congressional hearings to put the spotlight on the economic fallout for local farmers and businesses.
The prospects for any votes on trade legislation before the August recess are dim. Still, lawmakers appear to be putting the Trump administration on notice.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that if the administration continues “with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs,” he’ll push for legislation. He said he’s discussing options with colleagues now.
Hatch has been a critic of the administration’s imposition of tariffs but has so far focused on working behind the scenes to influence the White House. His speech on the Senate floor served as a pointed warning to the administration not to move forward with tariffs on imported vehicles and auto parts on the grounds that they pose a threat to America’s national security.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., followed his cue. They said the president’s proposed auto tariffs threaten tens of thousands of jobs in the South, where foreign automakers have invested heavily in recent decades.
They announced on the Senate floor Wednesday that they’ll introduce legislation as soon as next week that would freeze the Commerce Department’s investigation into whether auto imports present a national security threat. The bill would halt the Commerce Department probe while the International Trade Commission conducts a study.
Alexander urged Trump to reconsider his trade policy and “drop the tariffs.”
“These tariffs are dangerous. These tariffs are going to cost us jobs. These tariffs are going to lower our family incomes,” Alexander said.
While Jones and Alexander went to bat for auto manufacturers in their state, lawmakers from farm country sought to highlight concerns that retaliatory tariffs will dry up export markets as consumers in China, Europe and other places look elsewhere to buy soybeans, pork and other farm goods.
“Our farmers and our ranchers are being used as pawns in a trade war that I can guarantee you not one of them asked for,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said on the Senate floor. “This trade war is eliminating access to foreign markets that have taken generations to develop.”
On the House side, a trade subcommittee heard from farm groups directly on Wednesday. The same panel will examine next week the process that U.S. companies must go through to be excluded from the administration’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. No witnesses from the administration testified, much to the dismay of Democrats.
Kevin Paap, a corn and soybean farmer from Minnesota, said the tariffs are hitting farmers from all sides, increasing their costs at a time when prices for their products are falling.
“Agriculture is facing the perfect storm: trade uncertainties, decade lows in farm income, agricultural labor shortages and the uncompleted farm bill,” Paap said. “It’s quickly becoming more than we can handle.”
Cass Gebbers, a fruit grower from Washington state, said China this month increased tariff rates to 50 percent for U.S. cherries, apples and pears. He said that customers have canceled orders as a result of the tariffs and that has pushed down prices as a result of the extra product in the domestic market.
If the tariffs remain in place next year, competitors elsewhere in the world “will snatch up these markets as soon as we stumble.”
Behind the scenes, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., is urging constituents to make their voices heard at the White House. He said they may have better luck convincing Trump than lawmakers.
“He puts a lot more stock in what he sees and hears from his base than he does from elected members in Congress,” Rounds said.
While concern about a trade war is clearly growing on Capitol Hill, many Republican lawmakers are still giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, hoping the tariffs will lead trading partners, particularly China, to make concessions.
“I think what he had to do is get their attention, particularly China,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., adding that tariffs did just that.
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus in the House, said members have been talking about the tariffs at all their recent meetings but are admittedly “slow-walking” the issue.
“The majority is wanting to kind of wait and give President Trump time to see if he can seal the deal,” Walker said.”But, yeah, there are some concerns, and it seems to be growing with each passing week.”
As lawmakers deal with the series of tariffs announced in recent months, the Trump administration opened another front on that issue Wednesday with the Department of Commerce initiating an investigation into whether imports of foreign uranium, especially from Russia and nations under its influence, are a national security risk. Uranium is used in producing fuel for the nation’s nuclear power plants.
President Donald Trump’s defense of the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin did nothing to quell furor on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers on Wednesday demanded answers from the administration and pressed punitive legislation aimed at Moscow.
“Americans and the members of this committee deserve to know what the president and foreign autocrats are agreeing to behind closed doors,” said the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Menendez expressed consternation over Russian statements signaling a willingness to launch security cooperation agreements Trump and Putin allegedly agreed to during their encounter.
“Pro-Kremlin media at this moment are putting out more information … than anything that I know as the senior-most Democrat on this committee, than any member of the committee knows, and that the American people know,” he said.
Testimony in Senate
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to testify before the committee next week. The panel’s chairman, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, said Democrats are not alone in demanding answers.
“I take a back seat to no one on challenging what happened at NATO, what happened in Helsinki,” Corker said in response to Menendez. “I look forward to working with you in putting whatever pressure we need to put on the administration to make sure we find out [details of Trump’s trip].”
One day after insisting he misspoke during Monday’s press conference with Putin in which he did not defend U.S. intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Trump blasted critics of his performance in Helsinki and proclaimed the summit a success.
Of his closed-door meeting with the Russian leader, Trump wrote on Twitter that he and Putin “discussed many important subjects” and added: “Big results will come!”
National security team excluded
Democrats’ suspicions of Trump have risen to new heights, prompting an unprecedented demand — that the U.S. interpreter who attended the Trump-Putin meeting testify as to what was said. The Senate’s Democratic minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, noted that Trump excluded all members of his national security team from the private chat with Putin.
“President Trump wanted no one else in the room. So to have the translator come testify and tell what happened there is an imperative,” Schumer said. “It is rare for translators to come before Congress, but in this case it’s warranted.”
Republican leaders did not echo that call, but some Republican lawmakers reaffirmed their support for bipartisan legislation to further sanction Russia if it meddles in U.S. midterm elections in November, and to protect the special counsel in the Justice Department’s Russia probe, Robert Mueller, a frequent target of Trump’s ire.
“The only thing that Vladimir Putin understands is deterrence,” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said, advocating the DETER Act that he and Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen introduced in the chamber.
“Sanctions will go into effect immediately if the Director of National Intelligence … determines that Russia is once again interfering in our elections,” he added. “So that before he [Putin] even does it [orders meddling], he has a very clear understanding of what the price is going to be.”
Separately, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake told reporters he is working with Democrats to craft a Senate resolution affirming support for America’s intelligence community and demanding the administration fully brief lawmakers on Trump’s discussions with Putin in Helsinki.
Flake has said he was “floored” by the Trump-Putin news conference, calling it “shameful.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on Tuesday did not rule out Russia-related votes, saying “there’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this.”
Election security push
In the U.S. House, Democrats tried bringing an amendment providing $380 million in funding for election cybersecurity up for consideration Wednesday. Republicans blocked the measure from coming up for a vote, arguing previously approved funding is still available for states seeking assistance.
“I don’t know what the hell else we can do over here,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said on the House floor after the attempt Wednesday. “I think the American people want us to do something. What happened in the 2016 election, what Russia did to our country, was a serious matter.”
House Democrats also proposed censuring the president for his remarks in Helsinki as well as legislation protecting special counsel Mueller’s investigation into allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
With just a handful of days left in session, House Republicans are unlikely to take any politically risky moves that would distance themselves from the president ahead of November’s midterms elections, which will determine party control of the U.S. Congress.
But retiring Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican from Pennsylvania, told VOA Tuesday he did think this controversy would go away.
“It takes a little time to ascertain what the appropriate additional checks and balances might have to be. There’s at minimum a lot of frustration and embarrassment and just not accepting what happened,” Costello said.
Katherine Gypson contributed.
Another day of did he or didn’t he?
There is confusion at the White House about whether President Donald Trump again contradicted conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.
During a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the president shook his head and said, “Thank you very much, no” when asked if Russia still poses a threat to the United States.
Hours later, in the briefing room, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained that Trump actually was “saying ‘no’ to answering questions” and not to the reporter’s question itself.”
“He does believe that they would target certainly U.S. election,” she added.
Pressed about the president’s remark, Sanders explained: “I’m interpreting what the president said. I’m not reversing it.”
Many of the reporters clearly remained unsatisfied with the clarification. Some of those who were in the Cabinet Room publicly said they clearly understood that the president was tersely answering the question posed by Cecilia Vega of ABC News, who was representing the television networks in the typical pooling coverage arrangement.
When Trump returned to the White House South Lawn shortly after Sanders’ remark, VOA and others in that pool attempted to get the president to clarify.
Holding hands with first lady Melania Trump after stepping off of Marine One, Trump looked at reporters and waved, but he did not answer the questions.
However, Trump, in a broadcast aired Wednesday, told the “CBS Evening News” it is “true” Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and he “would” hold Russian President Vladimir Putin responsible for interference “because he’s in charge of the country.”
The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, last week said that Russia and other countries are continuing to target American businesses, the government and other institutions.
“The warning lights are blinking red,” Coats said, characterizing Russia’s aggression as persistent and pervasive, and that Moscow’s aggression is “meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham immediately cited the apparent gap between Trump’s and Coats’ views of Russia. The member of the armed services subcommittee on cyber-security, tweeted: “A BIG discrepancy between President Trump’s statement and DNI Coates’ warning. It’s imperative we get to the bottom of what is going on so we can be prepared to protect ourselves in advance of the 2018 elections. My personal view: the Russians are at (it) again.”
Another Republican, Susan Collins, who is a member of the Senate’s intelligence committee, tweeted: “The Russians continue efforts to undermine Western democracies, including ours. The President is wrong and needs to heed the warnings from our Intelligence Community, including DNI Dan Coats.”
A more concise reaction to the president came from a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.
Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden tweeted: “OMG. OMG. OMG.” (Repeating the acronym for “Oh my God”).
During the day’s earlier exchange with reporters in the Cabinet Room, the president asserted, “There’s never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been.”
Trump said he thinks Russian “President [Vladimir] Putin knows that better than anybody,” adding that the Russian leader is “not happy about it.”
The U.S. president has faced a barrage of criticism from lawmakers of both parties, retired high-level intelligence officials and diplomats for his performance at Monday’s news conference in Helsinki following his meeting with Putin.
Alongside the Russian leader, Trump said he rejected the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election that he won.
In a rare walkback, Trump said on Tuesday he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the presidential election he won.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump told reporters at the White House Tuesday, reading from a prepared statement.
But he then made an apparently unscripted addition: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there” — an assessment of the possibility that other countries tried to interfere in the U.S. election, which was not part of the intelligence community’s finding.
On Twitter Wednesday, Trump continued to boast about his summit with Putin, saying critics of his performance in Helsinki were suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
Trump also tweeted: “Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this.”
In another tweet he said, “So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well, which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”
Sanders told reporters that Trump’s extended face-to-face conversation with Putin, which appeared to last for more than two hours, covered a wide range of issues of concern to both countries, and that the president did raise the issue of election meddling.
Asked whether a recording was made of the conversation, for which only the presidents and their translators were present, Sanders replied, “I’m not aware of one.”
A number of Democratic lawmakers are requesting congressional committees subpoena Trump”s interpreter to answer questions. She has been identified in media reports as State Department veteran interpreter Marina Gross.
The White House press secretary was asked on Wednesday whether the administration would agree to such testimony.
“That’s something that would go through the State Department,” Sanders responded.
U.S. President Donald Trump is once again defending his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a day after reversing his acceptance of Putin’s denial that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”
The president’s Twitter statement came after he said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump told reporters in remarks from the White House. But he then added: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
His comments come a day after he publicly accepted Putin’s denial that Moscow was involved in election interference, drawing sharp criticism from both Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers for taking the foreign leader’s word over his own intelligence agencies. Lawmakers called his comments shameful and a disgrace to the U.S. presidency.
Claims he misspoke
At a White House meeting with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday, Trump said that after he reviewed a transcript of his Helsinki remarks, he said he realized he misspoke.
“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it WOULDN’T be Russia,” Trump said.
But he added that the Russian actions had no impact on the outcome of his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, and reiterated his frequent statement denying that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives.
He said his administration will do everything it can to thwart any Russian efforts to interfere with November’s U.S. congressional elections.
“We will stop it, we will repel it,” Trump vowed.
Before back-tracking, Trump said on Twitter he had a great summit with Putin and gave no ground in changing his statements about accepting Putin’s denial of interference in the U.S. election two years ago.
He echoed that sentiment about his meeting with his Russian counterpart again Wednesday morning in another Twitter post. “While the NATO meeting in Brussels was an acknowledged triumph, with billions of dollars more being put up by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success.”
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, responded to Trump’s rosy assessment.
“Let’s be very clear: Russia meddled in our election,” Ryan said. “We know they interfered with our elections, and we have passed sanctions on Russia to hold them accountable.”
When asked about election meddling during a joint news conference with Putin on Monday, Trump said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
A day later, U.S. lawmakers continued to condemn Trump’s performance.
“It’s almost as if Donald Trump is embracing Putin’s knees. I’m ashamed of it. Every American should be,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “Can you imagine if President Kennedy believed Khrushchev when he said there were no missiles in Cuba?”
Some Republicans have come to Trump’s defense. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “The president has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations — what’s he supposed to think?”
Democrats are demanding action to rein in Trump and counter Russia, from congressional hearings on the Helsinki summit to increased sanctions against Russia to legislation protecting the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller. Mueller’s 14-month investigation is ongoing, with no apparent end in sight.
“Words are not enough. Our response to the debasement of American interests before a foreign adversary demands a response not just in word but in deed,” Schumer said. “Our Republican colleagues cannot just go ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk.’ They must act.”
“I think there’s a lot we can do together,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, responded. “But as long as this becomes a political, partisan, stop-Trump-at-all-costs effort, I don’t think we are going to make much progress.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, told reporters he expects Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify on Russia as early as next week.
Some Trump critics called on his key national security aides to quit in the face of the president saying that he had “confidence” in both Putin and the U.S. intelligence community.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, asked in a Twitter comment, “If you’re on the Trump national security team, and you’ve been out there saying how strong Trump is on Russia and how serious our commitment is to NATO, how do you not resign after the last four days?”
There has been no indication so far that any of Trump’s key aides planned to quit.
President Donald Trump accepted the U.S. intelligence community assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election Tuesday, just a day after saying the opposite as he stood alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s reversal came after strong criticism from both parties on Capitol Hill — prompting many lawmakers to consider further action, as VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports.