Local, national officials call president's jaunt to meet Putin a 'failure'
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Few things can make politicians from both the Republican and Democratic parties come together in a unified voice but President Donald Trump’s actions in Helsinki on Monday seem to have done just that.
Key politicians at the local and national level — including some Republicans — are criticizing Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin as “disgraceful,” “weak” and a “failure” to stand up to Russia.
Trump made the trip to Finland for a summit with Putin and on Monday met behind closed doors for several hours with his Russian counterpart before a joint press conference gave the presidents the opportunity to sound off on a number of issues.
Standing proudly abreast Putin, Trump openly questioned the conclusions reached by American intelligence agencies that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump on Monday once again brushed off the allegations that his campaign received improper benefits from Russian officials and operatives, seeming to accept Putin’s insistence that Russia’s hands were clean.
Trump also said that the European Union was a “foe” on the world economic stage and displayed amiability with and trust of Putin that Trump rarely affords while insisting “the world’s largest nuclear powers” must get along.
Oswego County representatives in Congress pushed back against Trump’s statements in an unusually frank and critical tone.
Rep. John Katko called Trump’s efforts in Helsinki a “failure,” and Rep. Claudia Tenney added “Russia is not our friend.”
Katko, R-Camillus, backed the “unanimous conclusion of our nation’s intelligence agencies that Russia conducted an aggressive hacking and disinformation campaign in the United States,” and blasted Trump’s unwillingness to press Putin on Russia’s aggressive actions in the U.S. and the world.
“There is no excuse for his failure to do so,” said Katko.
Tenney, R-New Hartford, noted she voted to impose new sanctions on Russia in response to its “meddling in our election” and to rebuild the military “after years of cuts and a deeply flawed foreign policy of capitulation under the previous administration,” referring to President Barack Obama.
“As we have witnessed, strength is the one thing that a man like Putin understands and I support the U.S. leading our NATO allies to stand strong against Russian aggression,” said Tenney.
Tenney’s adversarial statement to Trump’s Monday remarks represent a significant departure in rhetoric from the first-term Congresswoman who has been one of the president’s most vocal and bombastic supporters.
State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi — who is challenging for Tenney’s seat in November — also slammed the president for not taking a harder stance with Putin and Russia.
“No matter where you fall on the political spectrum there is one thing that you’re scratching your head over: Vladimir Putin is no friend to America, so why would we ever stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him over our allies?” asked Brindisi, D-Utica.
Oswego County Republican Party Chair Fred Beardsley, however, is backing his man and broke with Katko and Tenney’s interpretation of Monday’s events.
“It’s awfully easy to be an armchair quarterback. It’s a lot different when you’re the president and the leader of the free world,” Beardsley said. “Just because the Democrats and others aren’t getting immediate results, I don’t know what to tell them. I can say that for the first time in a long time that I have the utmost faith in the president that we have. “
When asked if Trump will hurt GOP candidates in the November midterm elections, Beardsley remained confident.
“No,” he said. “I actually believe it will be just the opposite.”
As for Katko’s strong statement condemning the president, Beardsley was ambivalent. “Congressman Katko’s certainly entitled to his opinion,” he said. “And so am I.”
In Helsinki, Putin said he did indeed want to Trump to win in 2016 — because of his policies — but took no action to make it happen.
“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,” said Trump, repeatedly denouncing the special counsel investigation into Russian interference efforts, which intelligence officials warn are ongoing.
Trump appeared to take the Russian president’s denial of interference at face value while calling the U.S.’s own Justice Department special counsel’s probe a “disaster.” That U.S. investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, unveiled an indictment Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t see any reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election,” Trump said.
Democrat Dana Balter, who will challenge Katko in November’s election, said Katko was “unable and unwilling to offer more than mild words of criticism” against Trump, who Balter says Katko has supported faithfully.
“Just days after his own Justice Department indicted 12 Russian nationals for attacking our elections, President Trump took the side of Vladimir Putin over the women and men who have dedicated their lives to protecting our democracy,” Balter said in a statement.
Even Trump’s sometimes ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the summit a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Graham quipped that Trump ought to check a soccer ball Putin gave to Trump for listening devices, “and never allow it in the White House.”
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump made the U.S. “look like a pushover.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, says never in the history of the country has a president supported an American adversary the way Trump supported Putin.
“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,” said Schumer.
Yet while Trump’s remarks drew criticism in both parties, the reaction was more muted from the Republican side. Key GOP lawmakers at least initially refrained from directly attacking Trump’s performance, and at least one echoed the president’s criticism of the special counsel probe.
GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California he takes the charges filed by Mueller’s team seriously, but added, “I personally would neither rule in nor rule out the validity of a very interesting and odd-timed indictment of people who can never be brought to justice.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a strongly worded statement, saying there’s “no question” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and noting that U.S. intelligence agencies and a House panel agreed.
Sen. John McCain was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a “conscious choice to defend a tyrant” and achieved “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”