Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr defended the intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian influence in the 2016 election, defying President Donald Trump, who earlier Monday indicated he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials over U.S. evidence.
Trump met the Russian president in Helsinki, Finland, for a one-day summit. In a press conference after their meetings, Trump seemed to side with Putin, who denied that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election.
“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 and what he did is an incredible offer,” Trump said. “... I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
The meeting came just days after 12 Russian military officers were indicted for hacking attempts into the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
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“The Senate Intelligence Committee has reviewed the 2017 IC (intelligence community) assessment and found no reason to doubt its conclusion that President Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at the 2016 U.S. elections with the goal of undermining faith in our democratic process,” Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said in a statement. “Russia has conducted a coordinated cyberattack on state election systems, and hacked critical infrastructure. They have used social media to sow chaos and discord in our society. They have beaten and harassed U.S. diplomats and violated anti-proliferation treaties.”
“Any statement by Vladimir Putin contrary to these facts is a lie and should be recognized as one by the President. Vladimir Putin is not our friend and never has been. Nor does he want to be our friend. His regime’s actions prove it. We must make clear that the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.”
Trump’s performance in the press conference stoked anger from members of his own party, earning rebukes from some senators and representatives.
“The ghost of Ronald Reagan must be in shock. The president’s press conference today was an embarrassment. The leader of the free world must strongly stand up to those trying to subvert our democracy. We’re getting weakness instead,” Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who represents much of Eastern North Carolina, wrote in a tweet.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump has repeatedly said there was no collusion and called the investigation a “witch hunt.” He said Putin wanted Clinton to win because of his toughness on Russia.
But Putin said Monday that he favored Trump in the election.
“Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal,” Putin said.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina issued a statement criticizing Russia, but not mentioning Trump.
Putin “is to blame for Russia’s poor relations with the United States and the rest of the free world,” Tillis said, pointing to the Russian invasion of Crimea, its efforts in Syria and its election meddling as examples of poor behavior.
“Any meaningful improvement in our relationship with Russia must be solely dependent on whether Putin’s government starts to behave as a good faith actor on the world stage,” Tillis said in a statement. “Unfortunately, recent history casts serious doubt on if that is even a possibility.”
Several Republican senators — including John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — attacked Trump. McCain called the press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
“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,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
Democrats joined the chorus of complaints about Trump’s performance.
“Today, @ put Russia first. His actions are unacceptable and we cannot sit silently while he turns his back on our intelligence agencies and our national security. The President’s failure to hold Russia accountable is an international embarrassment,” Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte wrote in a tweet.
Wrote Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill: “President Trump is compromised. He places his trust in a former KGB thug over his own hand-picked Director of National Intelligence and blames the U.S. for poor relations with Russia.”