- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2018

Lawmakers in both parties criticized President Trump Monday for failing to publicly blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for election hacking at their press conference in Finland.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, called it a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”

“This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” Mr. Graham tweeted.

Mr. Trump dismissed an opportunity to confront Mr. Putin publicly about the allegation of Russia interfering with the U.S. 2016 election, calling special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation a “disaster for our country.”

He wouldn’t say whether he believed U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who said Russia is the worst offender of cyber attacks, over the denials of Mr. Putin. Mr. Trump said there “no reason to believe” Russia was responsible, but also said both countries were to blame for the controversy.

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, called the president’s comments blaming both the U.S. and Russia for the election meddling “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”

“The United States is not to blame,” Mr. Sasse said. “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.”

Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, commented on Twitter, “A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here.”

Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, said on Twitter, “I want President Trump’s diplomatic efforts to be successful, but I’ll take the word of a Hoosier over Vladimir Putin any day. We must take seriously the warnings of Director Coats and the American intelligence community. Russia is not our friend.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said it was “a national embarrassment that President Trump would put defending the legitimacy of his own election over defending American democracy and its people.”

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Russians “were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and their efforts are ongoing.”

“The president’s statements today in Helsinki demonstrate his continued refusal to accept the unanimous conclusions of U.S. intelligence leaders and the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee,” she said. “This position is untenable and at odds with the forceful response this moment demands. Given that we are in an election year, the need to act now to prevent malicious attempts to influence our democracy is urgent.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called the 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. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake,” Mr. McCain said.

He added, “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.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Russia “attempted to undermine the fundamentals of our democracy, impugn the reliability of the 2016 election, and sow the seeds of discord among Americans.”

He noted that the current administration’s intelligence officials concluded as much.

Mr. Gowdy said he’s confident that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former director of the CIA; Mr. Coats; U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley; FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others “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.”

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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