Trump urges U.S. to work with Russians
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that “it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” and that he’d discussed creating a cybersecurity unit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in a series of tweets the morning after returning from Germany, Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election during their meeting Friday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 world leaders’ summit in Hamburg.
Trump said Putin “vehemently denied” the conclusions of American intelligence agencies that Russian hackers and propagandists tried to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Trump did not say whether he believed Putin, tweeting only that he’s “already given my opinion.”
Trump has said he thinks Russia probably hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and candidate Hillary Clinton’s staff members, but that “other people and/or countries” were likely involved as well. He said ahead of the meeting that “nobody knows for sure.”
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus affirmed that on Fox News Sunday.
“Yes, he believes that Russia probably committed all of these acts that we’ve been told of,” Priebus said. “But he also believes that other countries also participated in this activity.”
Trump on Sunday said President Barack Obama had done “nothing” after learning of the Russian hacking before the election, though the Obama administration formally and publicly blamed Russia for the hacking on Oct. 7. Trump also said, in the context of his meeting with Putin, that “questions were asked” about the level of cooperation between U.S. intelligence agencies and the Democratic National Committee. The Democrats’ email server was among those that the agencies said were compromised by the Russians. Trump said the CIA and FBI had asked the Democratic National Committee 13 times for its server, and “still don’t have it.”
Putin said Saturday that he left the meeting thinking that Trump had believed his in-person denials of
“He asked questions, I replied. It seemed to me that he was satisfied with the answers,” Putin said.
U.S. officials responded on Sunday to whether Trump had accepted Putin’s denials.
“Why would President Trump broadcast exactly what he said in the meeting? Strategically that makes no sense,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on ABC’s This Week. “He’s made it very clear how he feels. He’s made it very clear that he addressed it straight on.”
Priebus took issue with Putin’s characterization.
“The president absolutely didn’t believe the denial of President Putin,” Priebus said, adding that Trump had spent a “large part of the meeting on the subject,” but wanted to move on to other issues, including the civil war in Syria.
Critics of the president took issue with Trump’s comment that Putin “vehemently denied” Russian meddling.
“When pursuing a corrupt politician, mobster or murderer on strong FBI evidence, if he ‘vehemently denied it,’ we just dropped it usually,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara joked in a tweet.
John Brennan, who served as CIA director under Obama and ran the agency’s response to Russia’s election interference,
chastised Trump on Sunday for repeatedly casting doubt on the conclusions of the intelligence community, including at a news conference last week in Poland.
“I seriously question whether or not Mr. Putin heard from Mr. Trump what he needed to about the assault on our democratic institutions,” Brennan said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Brennan added of Trump, “He said it’s an ‘honor’ to
meet President Putin. An honor to meet the individual who carried out the assault against our election? To me, it was a dishonorable thing to say.”
Trump said Sunday that he was eager to work with Putin on what he described as an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” the two men discussed forming “so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained the unit as a “framework under which we might begin to have agreement on how to deal with these very complex issues of cyberthreats, cybersecurity, cyber intrusions.”
Hours after his original tweet, Trump clarified, referring to Syria: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t — but a ceasefire can, & did!”
The tweet about the cybersecurity unit came after a day in which the idea was denounced by both Democrats and Republicans.
On the Republican side, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida said Sunday that Trump’s eagerness to partner with Putin was dangerous for the United States.
“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close,” Graham said on Meet the Press. “When it comes to Russia, [Trump’s] got a blind spot. To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin, and that’s
exactly what he’s doing.”
Rubio tweeted that Putin “will never be a trusted ally or a reliable constructive partner,” and that working with him to address cybersecurity threats was akin to partnering with Syrian President Bashar Assad to protect against chemical weapons.
McCain, meanwhile, said Russia has faced “no penalty whatsoever” from the Trump administration for its hacking.
“We know that Russia tried to change the outcome of our election last November, and they did not succeed, but there was really sophisticated attempts to do so,” McCain said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “So far, they have not paid a single price for that.”
Invoking the language of Trump’s tweet, McCain added, “Yes, it’s time to move forward, but there has to be a price to pay.”
Graham agreed, saying, “This whole idea about moving forward without punishing Russia is undercutting his entire presidency.”
Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who served under Obama at the time of Russia’s interference, said in a CNN interview that a cybersecurity unit with Russia was “like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that expecting Russia
to be a credible partner in any cybersecurity initiative “would be dangerously naive for this country.”
“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” he said.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defended Trump’s cooperation with Putin, saying that “we won’t ever trust Russia” but that working with Russia on cybersecurity will “keep them in check.”
“From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia, we need to tell them what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully, we can cut this out and get them to stop,” Haley said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
She continued: “It doesn’t mean we’ve ever taken our eyes off of the ball. It doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do with Russia right now.”