SEATTLE — Two of the four Republican members of Washington state’s congressional delegation broke with President Donald Trump over his Vladimir Putin comments in which he appeared to back the Kremlin’s denial of U.S. election interference over the word of America’ own intelligence agencies.
Most of the Washington congressional delegation reacted with outrage to Trump’s suggestion that he believes Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 elections. Trump’s comments were a remarkable break with U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department. And just as alarming for some, Trump also put the two countries on the same footing when casting blame for their strained relations.
Monday’s firestorm erupted when Trump, standing side by side with Putin in Helsinki, refused to publicly condemn — or say he believes — the U.S. assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Instead, he directed his ire at Democrats and U.S. officials, calling special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia a “disaster.”
Asked if there was anything he thinks Russia should take responsibility for, Trump said, “We’re all to blame.”
“As investigations have proven, Russia interfered in our elections,” Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said Monday after the Trump-Putin news conference in Helsinki, Finland. “This foreign attack on our democratic process threatens the very foundation of America. Those who have perpetrated interference in our elections will be held accountable. This is the message the President should deliver to Russia.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the fourth ranking Republican in the House leadership, said, “Russia is not a friend to the United States or our allies. There’s no question that they meddled in our election, and all evidence points to Putin’s direct involvement. In order to put America first, the President must hold Russia accountable for their adversarial actions and their continued efforts to undermine our democratic institutions.
“I supported sanctions last year to hold Putin and his regime accountable and will continue to advocate in Congress for strong American leadership. We must all stand in opposition to Russia’s efforts to undermine our elections and our values,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
The other two Republicans on the delegation didn’t appear to issue a statement after the Trump-Putin news conference; they were Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse.
But Democrats pulled no punches.
“Anyone who believes our President should put the US above Russia should be concerned by what they saw today,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., tweeted. “And anyone who is wondering why the President is choosing to defend Russia & blame America should join us in asking what, or who, President Trump is motivated by.
“It was truly horrifying and deeply alarming to see the President of the United States stand with the President of Russia in undercutting the work of our intelligence agencies and blaming America for the attacks on our elections and our democracy,” she wrote.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said, “Putin again denied Russian interference in our elections & Trump again refused to call him out. The foundations of our democracy are at risk & the American people deserve better.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote, “We should all be gravely concerned about whatever discussions President Trump has had with President Putin behind closed doors. At every turn of his trip to Europe, President Trump has followed a script that parallels Moscow’s plan to weaken and divide America’s allies and partners and undermine democratic values. … There is no sugar coating this. It is hard to see President Trump siding with Vladimir Putin over our own intelligence community and our criminal investigators as anything other than treason.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., wrote, “Today, in a disgusting, disturbing and deeply dangerous appearance seen around the world, Donald Trump sided with an authoritarian leader of another country over our own intelligence agencies. He refused to hold the Russian president accountable for anything – from interfering in our elections to the human rights abuses of Russian citizens. He repeatedly advanced the interests of another country over the one that he is supposed to represent.
“This is no time for my GOP colleagues to sit back. Too much is at stake, and we must have more than talk. We need action. We need hearings, we need real money invested in protecting our election security and we need the attacks on the Mueller investigation to stop. My GOP colleagues must stop shirking their responsibility to protect our Constitution and our country, and stand up to this President. The future of our country is at stake,” Jayapal said.