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U.S. lawmakers slam Trump as 'weak,' 'cowardly' in summit with Putin

By RICHARD COWAN and AMANDA BECKER
Reuters

July 16. 2018 9:51PM
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) speaks with news media at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington on Monday. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)



WASHINGTON — Leading U.S. lawmakers, including numerous Republicans, harshly criticized President Donald Trump on Monday for failing to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election as the two presidents of nuclear powers stood side-by-side at a joint news conference.

Trump, speaking in Helsinki after his first summit with Putin, said he saw no reason to believe his own country's intelligence agencies over the Kremlin leader's assurances that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election.

A wave of condemnation immediately followed, with lawmakers calling Republican Trump "weak" and "cowardly," while Senator John McCain said the summit was "a tragic mistake." The war hero and former Republican presidential nominee, a frequent critic of the President, said Trump "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."

On Friday, a U.S. special counsel announced indictments of 12 Russian spies on charges of hacking Democratic Party computer networks as part of the election meddling, the second set of charges against Russians in an investigation that Trump calls a political witch hunt.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Republican and a Trump appointee, in an unusual statement responding to Trump's remarks, stood by the U.S. agencies.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy," Coats said.

On his way home, Trump insisted in a post on Twitter that he has "GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people."

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been at their lowest point in the post-Cold War era and Trump had touted the summit as a chance to reduce tensions. Even before the allegations of Russian meddling, tensions were high over Moscow's concerns about NATO expansion, Russian annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and its military backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in 2015.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 election.

"The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals," said Ryan in a statement.

Putin was re-elected in a disputed election in March with the main opposition leader Alexei Navalny barred from running on what he says was a pretext.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters: "I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again. The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community."

Some other Republicans in Congress also criticized Putin without attacking Trump.

Trump's eagerness to improve U.S. relations with Russia had been met with skepticism in Congress, where lawmakers nearly unanimously approved tough sanctions targeting Moscow in 2017.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican, said Trump's comments next to Putin made the United States look like a "pushover."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the summit was a "missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning ...

"This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves."

Senator Susan Collins said Trump's "position is untenable," while Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, also a Republican, outlined Russian aggression on several fronts and said the United States "will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies."

Both Senate and House Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi went so far as to hint that Trump's behavior might be explained by Putin possibly having some embarrassing information about Trump.

Schumer said Trump's approach in Helsinki was unprecedented.

"For the President of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak," Schumer said.


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