GOP lead­ers warn Trump on Rus­sian re­la­tions

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives skep­ti­cal of suc­cess


Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress on Sunday de­fended Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s de­sire to pur­sue bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia, but cast strong doubt on whether his ad­min­is­tra­tion would suc­ceed given the failed ef­forts of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents.

Trump has alarmed law­mak­ers over his pub­lic skep­ti­cism of a U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­port last week that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin or­dered an “in­flu­ence cam­paign” to sway the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor. His aides re­it­er­ated Trump’s con­tention that Democrats were pur­su­ing a “po­lit­i­cal witch hunt” to sow doubts about his vic­tory.

Reince Priebus, who is slated to be­come Trump’s White House chief of staff, said on CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” that it is “in­dis­putable” that the roll­out of the re­port is “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated to dis­credit” Trump.

GOP con­gres­sional lead­ers have gen­er­ally ac­cepted the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s find­ings and they sought Sunday to de­flect at­ten­tion from Trump’s stance to­ward Rus­sia by em­pha­siz­ing that his pro­fessed goal of im­prov­ing the United States’ abil­ity to work with Moscow is in line with the ap­proach taken by his pre­de­ces­sors.

“It’s not un­usual for a new pres­i­dent to want to get along with Rus­sia,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., said on “Face the Na­tion.” But he added: “My sus­pi­cion is that his hopes will be dashed pretty quickly. Rus­sia is a big ad­ver­sary and they demon­strated it by try­ing to mess around in our elec­tions.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said he un­der­stands why Trump would “want to be bud­dies” with Putin, say­ing it was no dif­fer­ent than Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and for­mer pres­i­dents Ge­orge W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton.

But Nunes, a mem­ber of Trump’s transition team, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he has “cau­tioned this ad­min­is­tra­tion to be care­ful with Putin, be­cause I think he is a bad ac­tor. It is true we’d like to be friends with Rus­sia, but I’m just not sure it’s pos­si­ble.”

Bush said early in his pres­i­dency that he found Putin trust­wor­thy after he had stared into his eyes to “get a sense of his soul.” Bush trav­eled to Rus­sia seven times, more vis­its than to any other coun­try, but his ef­forts to court Moscow ended dis­as­trously when Rus­sia in­vaded Ge­or­gia.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced a “re­set” with Moscow in 2009, hop­ing to have bet­ter suc­cess woo­ing then-Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev. But that ef­fort quickly un­rav­eled in the wake of Moscow’s har­bor­ing of for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den, Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­cur­sions into Ukraine and its sup­port of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad.

Obama trav­eled to Moscow only once in eight years can­cel­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing there in 2013, and he met with Putin only in in­for­mal set­tings on the side­lines of mul­ti­lat­eral sum­mits.

Last month, Obama an­nounced a se­ries of pu­ni­tive ac­tions against Rus­sia for its cy­ber­hack­ing of the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties dur­ing the elec­tion. He said the United States would ex­pel 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats and close two Rus­sian com­pounds. Putin, an­tic­i­pat­ing a shift of U.S. pol­icy un­der Trump, said he would not re­tal­i­ate by ex­pelling any U.S. of­fi­cials.

Obama has said his ad­min­is­tra­tion might take ad­di­tional ac­tions be­fore he leaves of­fice Jan. 20, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial covert cy­ber­at­tacks on Rus­sian in­sti­tu­tions.

In an in­ter­view that aired Sunday, Obama said he did not mis­judge the threat from Putin.

“I don’t think I un­der­es­ti­mated him,” Obama said on ABC News’ “This Week,” “but I think that I un­der­es­ti­mated the de­gree to which, in this new in­for­ma­tion age, it is pos­si­ble for mis­in­for­ma­tion, for cy­ber­hack­ing and so forth, to have an im­pact on our open so­ci­eties, our open sys­tems, to in­sin­u­ate them­selves into our demo­cratic prac­tices in ways that I think are ac­cel­er­at­ing.”

Mitch McCon­nell

Devin Nunes

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