An Idaho senator who is next in line to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not buy Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that his country meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s comments joined a flood of reactions to Monday’s two-hour, one-on-one meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland.
“Once again, President Trump mentioned the issue of the so-called interference of Russia with the American elections, and I had to reiterate things I said several times, including during our personal contacts, that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election process,” Putin said via a translator during a joint press conference following the meeting.
When asked whom he believes, U.S. intelligence agencies or Putin, Trump responded: “So 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.”
Risch, R-Idaho, joined several fellow Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee in voicing his support for U.S. intelligence and denouncing Russia.
“My assessment has not changed; Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and is no friend of the United States. The United States must stand from a position of strength in our relationship with Russia and in defense of our allies and shared values,” Risch replied via email to several questions from the Statesman about Trump’s and Putin’s remarks. Risch did not provide any further response to the questions.
Fellow Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo also criticized Putin’s remarks. Staff for the senator directed the Statesman to a written statement in which Crapo referenced his role in passing a Russian sanctions bill last summer.
Crapo introduced the bill “in response to Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyberattacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” he said Monday.
“Under this law, major sanctions have been imposed upon Russia for its actions toward America and other nations. My views remained unchanged. We need to see actions, not words, from Russia in order to keep our relationship moving forward.”
Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was ill on Monday, so he was unable to immediately respond to the Statesman’s query.
On Tuesday, he provided a statement: “I have always believed that America first does not mean America alone. We are at our strongest when we work together with our allies to counter international aggression inconsistent with our values. In response to Russian actions that run counter to our principles, Congress has spoken clearly by providing the administration tools to hold the Kremlin accountable, tools that I hope will be utilized to their fullest extent.”
Simpson’s Democratic challenger in this year’s 2nd Congressional District race, Aaron Swisher, also weighed in on the Helsinki meeting.
“The President sold out our security, undermined faith in our intelligence community, and gave credibility to a country that is trying to undermine our Republic. And that is only what we saw on TV,” Swisher said in a news release. “I fully support having the Congress immediately subpoena the President’s translator to find out what Trump promised Putin in private.”
The fourth member of Idaho’s congressional delegation, GOP Rep. Raul Labrador, did not respond to the Statesman’s request for comment.
On Tuesday, Labrador told HuffPost, “It was not a good day yesterday,” referring to the Helsinki meeting. HuffPost reported Labrador “took issue with the talk of treason.”
After a day of criticism, Trump on Tuesday insisted he misspoke during the press conference. He told reporters at the White House that he accepts the intelligence community’s findings on Russia and the 2016 election.
Some of Risch’s Senate Intelligence peers made more pointed statements Monday.
Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said his committee reviewed the U.S. intelligence community’s 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. 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.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the 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,” Collin said. “This position is untenable and at odds with the forceful response this moment demands,” she said.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said he trusts U.S. intelligence teams “more than I trust a former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin.”
Separately, various U.S. and foreign diplomats told McClatchy that Trump’s remarks leave them worried America will no longer be a reliable partner, will no longer defend other countries and will no longer stand up to its adversaries.
“We’re not going to be able to mobilize anybody for anything after this unless he shows real toughness toward Russia, which kind of undercuts the whole purpose of going over there,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush.