U.S. President Donald Trump faced outrage on Tuesday for his failure to hold Russia accountable for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and some U.S. lawmakers threatened action in Congress to punish Moscow and show support for U.S. intelligence agencies.
At a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a summit in Helsinki on Monday, Trump stunned politicians back home by shying away from criticizing Putin for Moscow’s efforts to undermine the election, contradicting the findings of American intelligence agencies.
Trump, whose summit with Putin concluded a week-long Europe trip that included a NATO meeting and talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pushed back on Tuesday at the storm of criticism, blaming media coverage.
“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy!,” he tweeted.
The condemnation for his performance at the Helsinki news conference, including from many fellow Republicans, matched or eclipsed previous controversies in Trump’s turbulent 18 months in office.
“The president needs to understand he has damaged U.S. foreign policy,” Representative Mike Turner, a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. “He’s given them a pass and is certainly not holding them accountable for what they’re doing.”
Some lawmakers said they would seek remedies in Congress.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a longtime Trump critic, has raised the idea of passing a resolution that would voice lawmakers’ support for the U.S. intelligence community and U.S. allies, many of who are feeling the sting of strong Trump criticism in recent weeks.
Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, has floated a resolution similar to Flake’s.
Several senators, including Republican Ben Sasse, Republican Pat Toomey, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, have backed more sanctions on Russia, but it was unclear whether Senate or House of Representatives leaders would support such a move or how new sanctions might be crafted.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, calling Russia’s government “menacing,” said he was willing to consider additional sanctions on Russia, and reiterated his support for U.S. intelligence community findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Congress nearly unanimously passed a sanctions law last year targeting Moscow for election meddling and for its actions in Ukraine and Syria. In April, that law led the U.S. Treasury to impose major sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs, in one of Washington’s most aggressive moves to punish Moscow.