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Tuesday
Jul172018

Trump: 'I have full faith and support' in intel community's conclusion on Russian election meddling

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said he "has full faith" in and accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that meddling took place during the 2016 elections as he prepared to meet with members of Congress at the White House on Tuesday.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that meddling took place," Trump said reading from remarks which came more than a day after he questioned their findings. He added that it "could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there."

His typed prepared remarks included what appeared to be a handwritten note in black marker which read: "There was no collusion."

Trump said he misspoke during Monday's joint presser with Vladimir Putin and meant to say there was no reason "it wouldn't be Russia" behind election meddling.

"I said the word would instead of wouldn't...I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself."

At one point, the lights in the White House room went out as Trump made his remarks.

"Oops, they just turned off the light," Trump said, joking: "That must be the intelligence agencies."

Trump also defended his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisting it was a success in spite of the widespread political backlash at home over his remarks at a Helsinki news conference.

"I think this was our most successful visit and that had to do, as you know, with Russia. I met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in an attempt to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing humanity," Trump said. "We have never been in a worse relationship with Russia than we are as of a few days ago, and I think that's gotten substantially better and I think it has the possibility of getting much better."

Later Tuesday afternoon, the White House circulated a press release of all the ways President Trump is "protecting our elections and standing up to Russia's malign activities," while also strengthening alliances and "troop readiness in Europe."

The president drew criticism, even from some of his closest Republican allies, for his earlier comments during the summit's press conference in which he seemed to accept Putin's denials of election meddling in conflict with his own intelligence community's conclusion that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the election.

Among the strongest rebukes of the president's performance came from close ally Newt Gingrich, who called for Trump to immediately correct what he characterized as the "the most serious mistake of his presidency."

The president took to Twitter Tuesday morning to double down on his assessment that the meeting with Putin was successful, even more so than his meeting with the United States' closest allies at NATO.

The president also offered thanks to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who was one of a small number of Republicans who offered a defense of the president.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have expressed concern over what might have been discussed between Trump and Vladimir Putin during the private, two-hour meeting in Helsinki.

Senate Democrats are calling on the U.S. translator who was in the meeting to testify before Congress, "to determine what was specifically discussed and agreed to on the United States' behalf."

"We're even more worried about what happened in those two hours when the president was alone with Mr. Putin," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. "Does anyone believe that he was tougher on Putin in secret than he was publicly?"

Schumer is also calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, and US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman to testify before Congress. Schumer said he spoke with Coats Monday night, but he wouldn't share what was discussed.

"This is too important not to get the full story out before the Senate," Schumer said.

Senate Democrats are also demanding the administration turn over all the "contemporaneous notes" taken during the meeting.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Russian gun-rights activist linked to NRA indicted for acting as foreign agent

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who was recently arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiracy, was indicted by a grand jury on Tuesday on a second offense of acting as an agent of a foreign government.

Butina, who is alleged to have been a “covert Russian agent” developing an “influence operation” in the United States since 2015, faces a statutory maximum of five years in prison for the first offense and a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison for the second offense.

It is routine for prosecutors to seek a grand jury indictment after initially filing charges with a criminal complaint. According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Butina is due to appear before Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Butina denied the charges through an attorney, who called the complaint against her “overblown” and said she “intends to defend her rights vigorously and looks forward to clearing her name.”

Butina, 29, had been a mysterious presence in conservative circles over the past several years. She cofounded the Russian gun-rights group “The Right to Bear Arms” with Alexander Torshin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, and then, according to prosecutors, used those seemingly shared interests to cultivate ties to high-ranking NRA officials and conservative politicians in the United States.

Butina and Torshin were frequent attendees of the annual NRA conventions, and former NRA president David Keene returned the favor. In 2013, Butina introduced Keene at the Right to Bear Arms annual conference in Moscow, and in 2015, she hosted a delegation of NRA board members, including Keene, in Moscow.

The relationship appears to have positioned her to get close to other powerful people, including the president. At the FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas in July 2015, Butina asked then-candidate Donald Trump a question about whether he would uphold “damaging” Russian sanctions. She also attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. in February 2017, where President Trump was the keynote speaker.

Meanwhile, she was pursuing a master’s degree in international relations from American University, where she graduated in May, but law enforcement officials now believe that was just a cover as she acted as a “covert Russian agent” seeking to “exploit personal connections” and “infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance” Russian interests.

Throughout her time in the United States, according to the affidavit attached to the initial criminal complaint, she received guidance from an unnamed Russian official who, based on the description, appears to be Torshin, and coordinated with two unnamed U.S. persons, whose identities remain opaque.

According to the affidavit, Butina and the Russian official “took steps to develop relationships with America politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them, ‘back channel’ lines of communication. These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”

That effort appears to have been focused on the NRA. In private messages, Butina emailed one of the unnamed U.S. persons, describing what she called the “central place and influence” the NRA enjoys in an unnamed political party as the “largest sponsor of the elections to the US congress, as well as a sponsor of The CPAC conference and other events.”

The following year, that U.S. person emailed an acquaintance, saying “I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin” and leaders of an unnamed political party through an unnamed gun rights organization.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Alabama representative faces runoff, past position on Trump a key issue

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In October of 2016, less than one day after the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape was uncovered by the Washington Post, Alabama congresswoman Martha Roby became one of the first prominent Republicans to announce she would not vote for Donald Trump as a result.

Not even two years later, that decision could factor into her runoff in the GOP primary in Alabama's 2nd Congressional District Tuesday after falling well short of a majority in the first round of voting on June 5.

Her opponent, Bobby Bright, a former Democratic congressman and mayor of Montgomery now running as a Republican, is seeking to make Roby the fourth member of the House, and third Republican, to be defeated in a primary this year.

In a field of five last month, Roby captured 39 percent of the vote to Bright's 28.1 percent, leaving an additional 32.9 percent at play Tuesday if Roby and Bright's supporters stick with their candidates.

Despite Bright's past as a member of the Democratic Party, he has become an ardent supporter of the president who has criticized Roby's 2016 "Never Trump" position, characterizing her stance as an act of "disloyalty."

"Donald Trump's behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president, and I won't vote for him," said Roby in her October 2016 statement. "As disappointed as I've been with his antics throughout this campaign, I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party. Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket."

"Hillary Clinton must not be president, but, with Trump leading the ticket, she will be," concluded Roby, in a prediction that would turn out to be incorrect.

Any animosity between the president and congresswoman over her decision appears to have been buried, as Trump endorsed Roby in late June. Trump also went so far as to attack Bright for his vote to elect Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House while a Democratic member of Congress in 2009.

"Congresswoman Martha Roby of Alabama has been a consistent and reliable vote for our Make America Great Again Agenda," the president tweeted. "She is in a Republican Primary run-off against a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat. I fully endorse Martha for Alabama 2nd Congressional District!"

Bright responded to the endorsement shortly after, chalking Trump's decision up to politics.

"It appears the D.C. powerbrokers have gotten to the president on this issue. It’s truly a swamp of insiders controlled by big money special interests," Bright said in a statement, adding that the endorsement wouldn't prevent his continued backing of Trump. "I support President Trump and his America First agenda. I always will. He can count on me to be his partner to build the Wall, promote peace through strength, and work for prosperity for all."

Should Roby lose Tuesday, she would join Reps. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C.; Mark Sanford, R-S.C.; and Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.; as incumbents who have fallen victim to upstart primary challengers.

Other noteworthy runoffs in Alabama Tuesday include the Republican primary races for lieutenant governor and attorney general, which have attracted influential outsiders in the campaigns' final days.

On Monday, former Trump political adviser Roger Stone stumped for Troy King, who is challenging incumbent Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall after the pair finished in the top two of a tight first round that saw all four Republican candidates receive over 20 percent of the vote. Marshall, who is seeking his first election to the post after being appointed by former Gov. Robert Bentley, has been boosted by events with fellow state attorney generals, including Florida's Pam Bondi, a close ally of the president.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Environmental, health advocates speak out against EPA 'secret science' rule

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Environment and health advocates are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon a proposed rule that they say would hurt environmental protections by blocking the agency from using some scientific research in its regulations.

The EPA held a public hearing on its "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule Tuesday, which former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said would bar the agency from basing regulations on science where the raw data is not made public -- what Pruit called "secret science." More than 200,000 public comments have been submitted on the proposal since it was announced in April.

Dozens of representatives from groups including the American Lung Association, Moms Clean Air Force, and Union of Concerned Scientists testified against the proposal in the hearing.

When he announced the rule, Pruitt said it would make regulations at the agency more transparent because any study used to write a rule could be replicated. But critics say because many EPA rules are related to protecting health, some of the data that is used in that research can't be released without breaching the privacy of the people involved.

Advocates from health and environmental groups say the rule is vague and would block regulators from citing research into the health effects of pollution, which usually does not release raw data due to privacy concerns.

Michael Halpern, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union for Concerned Scientists, testified that the rule would prevent EPA from carrying out its mission to protect human health and the environment.

"Without the ability to use this scientific information, EPA would be unable to meet its mission and statutory obligations. This proposal would make it significantly harder for EPA to use the best available science to protect the public, including from harmful emissions of hazardous air pollutants, particulate matter and ozone, exposure to dangerous chemicals in commerce, (and) drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals such as PFAS or lead," Halpern said.

In one example, the director of the nuclear program for the Natural Resources Defense Council said the proposed rule could undercut standards for radiation exposure because the EPA would no longer be able to rely on research on atomic bomb survivors -- because the data is available to other researchers but not the general public.

Matthew McKinzie, director of the nuclear program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the rule would exclude important studies about atomic bomb survivors, for example, even though the studies are well-regarded and have been reviewed by other researchers multiple times.

"Implementation of the rule would effectively block the use of such key scientific studies and allow for radiation standards to be either wholly weakened or made functionally meaningless," McKinzie said in his testimony.

The studies McKinzie cites and other health-related studies about issues like smog pollution or chemical exposure often study thousands of individuals monitored for decades, and researchers say they can't publicly release the data because it would not be possible to remove all the personal information or that the research subjects did not consent to make the data public.

Some advocates say the rule isn't actually about transparency but would benefit industry groups who want fewer regulations.

Groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Petroleum Institute, and the American Chemistry Council say they support the rule and would work with other stakeholders to maximize transparency while working within limitations like information that legally can't be made public because it includes private health information.

A report released by the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute on Tuesday says the rule is actually more limited than critics say and that the EPA would still be allowed to use research that can't be made publicly available when it is "not feasible" to do so. Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the institute who attended Tuesday's hearing, said some of the testimony ignored that other laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act require the EPA to use the "best available science" so it could not ignore studies who use data protected by privacy laws.

"Numerous presenters raised concerns that the transparency rule would somehow prevent EPA from using the best available science, and thereby prevent EPA from making rules to protect public health. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Angela Logomasini, a senior fellow at the institute who attended Tuesday's hearing. "The rule explicitly provides exemptions for science that cannot be released because of privacy concerns," Logomasini said, adding "Perhaps some opponents are actually more concerned that data release will undermine their ideological views about regulation."

But critics, including Democratic lawmakers, said the rule was unnecessary and implied that EPA was previously using science that wasn't already vetted by other researchers.

"The proposed rule perpetuates the incorrect notion that the science the EPA relies on is somehow hidden. It is not,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Or., said in her testimony. “The EPA would be forced to ignore valuable information discovered during their research because it contains confidential information. This would have chilling consequences for the EPA and every person who benefits from clean air and clean water."

The proposed rule is open for public comment until August 16.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Ryan, other members of Congress, weigh how to respond to Trump's Putin remarks

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- While House Speaker Paul Ryan struggled Tuesday to defend President Donald Trump's performance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, without criticizing him directly, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor with a laundry list of things he says it’s obvious Congress should do in response to Trump's remarks.

They are, in the order Schumer presented them: Increase sanctions on Russia; demand that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other members of the Trump national security team in Helsinki testify before Congress; stop attacking special counsel Robert Mueller; urge Trump to extradite the 12 indicted Russians; bolster U.S. election security.

“Our Republican colleagues cannot just go 'tsk, tsk, tsk.' They must act if they want to help America,” Schumer said.

That’s a pretty thorough list of the options Congress could take in order to send a message to Trump, the American people and allies around the world. But each measure has a different likelihood of being implemented, based on a number of political and policy-related risks and rewards that each lawmaker would weigh individually.

Here’s a look at what's being discussed.

Stronger sanctions?

Congress relatively recently passed strict new sanctions on Russia which the Trump administration has only reluctantly implemented. Ryan expressed openness to increasing the pressure through sanctions if lawmakers identify new targets.

“What we intend to do is to make sure that they don't get away with it again,” Ryan said during a news conference Tuesday.

And that jibes with a bill from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., that would impose new sanctions on Russia’s finance, energy and defense sectors if the director of national intelligence determines that the Kremlin has interfered again in U.S. elections.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Tuesday expressed support of the bill and the notion in general of imposing more sanctions on Russia.

“By putting restrictions on banks and Russia not doing business with American banks, it's going to do real harm to Russia's economy,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said.

“That certainly would send a very strong message to the Russians, which is needed to counter what the president said yesterday,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., had a response that was briefer but to the point: “Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions,” he said.

The question is how Senate leadership feels about bringing such a bill to the Senate floor.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Monday did not rule out new sanctions but did note that Congress had already gotten “dramatic” penalties signed into law, however reluctantly the administration is implementing them.

“Much of what Sen. Schumer’s asking for I think we’ve already done,” Cornyn said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, who expressed openness to additional sanctions, urged reporters to keep their expectations realistic in terms of how quickly they’d see Congress move on such legislation.

“Congress doesn't function in a way where you have an incredibly poor performance by the president in really over the last 10 days and then all of a sudden, the next day pass things,” he said.

The Senate also wants to see the House version of the annual defense policy bill -- the NDAA -- drop a provision that would allow the president to lift sanctions on Russia with very few preconditions. But Corker Tuesday said he wasn’t even aware of that House provision, meaning it’s not really on the Senate’s radar yet.

Testimony?

There is a bipartisan desire to hear from top Cabinet officials on what was said during the private meeting between Trump and Putin.

“I’m calling on Leader McConnell and his leadership team to immediately request a hearing with Secretary of State Pompeo and the rest of the team from Helsinki so we can find out what the hell happened there,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Corker told reporters that Pompeo might come in to brief members of his committee next week. Pompeo has not yet briefed the panel on the Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, so the original briefing would have only been on that, but would now include Helsinki, too.

“We need to find out who was giving [Trump] patriotic advice and who was giving him unpatriotic advice,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the committee, said Monday.

Calls for extradition?

Lawmakers have already dismissed out of hand Putin’s offer to have reciprocal interrogation, wherein Russian officials invite Americans to witness them interrogating the 12 newly-indicted Russian operatives in exchange for the same opportunity in the United States. The president had called the offer an “interesting idea.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Cornyn told reporters Monday.

But some senators – including at least one Republican – are urging Trump to demand that Russia extradite the twelve to the United States.

“Ask for the extradition of the 12 criminals that invaded our election process and secondly, to be very strong,” Judiciary chairman Grassley said when asked for his advice to Trump.

“You mess in our election again and there's going to be big consequences.”

But it’s not clear whether Republican leadership will embrace that message. Cornyn yesterday called the suggestion “wishful thinking.”

“Putin’s not going to extradite those intelligence officers,” he added. It remains to be seen whether that dissuades Congress from speaking with one voice urging the president to demand extradition anyway.

Bolstering election security?

Congress also included $380 million in funding in this year’s omnibus spending bill to bolster states’ election infrastructure. But there are additional bills that have been circulating for months that would more directly bolster U.S. election security than imposing additional sanctions after the fact.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mark Warner, D-Va., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced the Honest Ads Act in October 2017, intended to prevent foreign influence in online political ads, as Russia allegedly did in 2016 using platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It would impose public disclosure requirements on online political advertisements similar to those that already exist for TV, radio and satellite ads. A companion bill in the House was sponsored by Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo.

Klobuchar and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., also have a separate bill that would streamline cybersecurity information-sharing between federal intelligence agencies and state election agencies.

A congressional aide told ABC that the Klobuchar-Lankford bill has picked up additional Republican sponsors and has “a lot of momentum,” especially after the Helsinki meeting. Both senators have been working with their party’s leadership teams to move the bill forward in the hopes of eventually holding a floor vote.

But the aide said that bill has a “higher likelihood of crossing the finish line” than Honest Ads, which has not picked up any Republicans beyond McCain, who is in his home state of Arizona undergoing cancer treatment. In the meantime, the bill’s sponsors have been urging social media companies to implement its requirements voluntarily.

In a statement released before the Helsinki meeting, Klobuchar urged Trump to tell Putin about congressional efforts to strengthen U.S. election security.

“Bipartisan support in Congress is important but there is no substitute for Presidential leadership and action,” she said.

Other measures?

Another likely measure that is already being discussed, according to several senators, is another nonbinding “sense of the Senate” resolution to condemn Trump’s remarks in Helsinki, where he questioned U.S. intelligence on Russian election interference and blamed his own country for Russian aggression.

On the House side, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., will introduce a resolution “endorsing” Speaker Ryan's written statement from Monday defending the U.S. intelligence community. She also said Democrats would call for increased funding for grants to states regarding election security, and teased that Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, will introduce his own resolution in the coming days to criticize the president.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., also attempted to offer a motion for the House Judiciary Committee to adjourn a hearing on social media filtering Tuesday in order to go into executive session and discuss Russian threats to the U.S. electoral process.

But as Corker noted, such measures can deliver a message, but not much else.

“Those are nice, you know, and we did that to show support for our NATO allies and for NATO itself, but they don't do anything,” Corker noted of similar resolutions that have already passed the Senate.

Corker wants to see the Senate take up what has become a priority of his: a bill to prevent the president from unilaterally imposing tariffs on other countries on the basis of national security.

But that bill has not previously received the support from Senate leadership needed to bring it up for a vote, and it’s not clear that it would be called up now as a means of responding to Trump’s comments in Helsinki.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

President Trump: Putin meeting 'better' than summit with NATO allies

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Amid a flood of criticism from members of both parties over his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump declined to reverse course Tuesday by instead highlighting the meeting as more productive than his gathering with NATO allies days before.

"While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "Sadly, it is not being reported that way - the Fake News is going Crazy!"

While the president dismissed the criticism as evidence of a biased media, it's not just Democrats who have raised serious alarms as Trump appeared to side with Putin's denials of interference in the 2016 election.

One of Trump's most stalwart defenders, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, tweeted following the summit saying it was "the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected – immediately."

Trump instead chose to highlight one of his lone Republican backers Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said the backlash was instead evidence of "Trump derangement syndrome.”

"Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!" Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "'The President has gone through a year and a half of totally partisan investigations - what’s he supposed think?'"

None of Trump's cabinet members have rushed to Trump's defense amid the controversy, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement Monday standing by the Intelligence Community's assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

However, in an attempt to justify the president's performance, the White House notably circulated talking points obtained by ABC News to surrogates and Republican allies on Capitol Hill late Monday evening as the president landed back in Washington.

The talking points seem to contradict what the president said standing alongside Putin, listing the previous times Trump said he "thinks" Russia meddled and one appearance in 2017 when he said, "I'm with our agencies."

The narrative being pushed by the White House runs counter to Trump's own comments just yesterday saying he doesn't "see any reason why" Russia would be interfering in the election, and called Putin's denial of meddling "strong and powerful."

Instead, the White House shared Trump's "real record on Russia" to Republicans "to push back on the false and hysterical claims currently being pushed by some of those on the left and in the media."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake rips Trump's summit performance with Putin as 'confused' and 'shameful'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Jeff Flake Tuesday slammed President Donald Trump's Helsinki summit performance with Vladimir Putin as "shameful" and "confused,” calling it a "mistake" for him to meet privately with the Russian president.

"If that is what victory looks like, as the White House said, I think we'd all like to know what failure looks like in a summit performance," the Arizona senator said in an interview with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America.

Flake said he is “very concerned” about what the two leaders discussed in their private two-hour meeting Monday in Helsinki, Finland, and wants Trump's national security team to brief federal lawmakers on the discussion

"That was a big mistake to meet alone," Flake said. "If the president is as confused as he seems to be in terms of our relationship [with the Russians] and in terms with what the Russians are capable of, to meet privately with Vladimir Putin is just wrong. So, I'm very concerned. I think that our allies are most concerned, particularly those that border right on Russia."

Trump played into the hands of the Russian rhetoric that NATO is weak, leaving U.S. allies with the impression of "the U.S. being a non-dependable ally for NATO," Flake said.

"Then to have that kind of rhetoric from the president just plays so well into that; it's got to be unnerving for them," Flake said of allied countries.

During a joint news conference with Putin after their private meeting, Trump hedged on whether he agrees with the U.S. intelligence community on its conclusion that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

"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," Trump said.

The comment came just days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence agent on allegations of meddling in the 2016 election that propelled Trump to the White House.

The president's statements also set off a firestorm in Washington, stoking criticism from prominent members of Trump's own party.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Trump's performance in Helsinki was a major setback in the fight against Russian interference in elections around the world.

Sen. John McCain, R-Aria., described the Trump-Putin summit as "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

The Republican head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennesee, said, “the president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover."

Flake said the Senate should require Trump's national security team come to Capitol Hill and provide details on the summit, including what was said in the private meeting between Trump and Putin.

"I think immediately the Senate ought to pass a resolution stating our support of the [U.S.] intelligence community and that we do believe them," Flake said. "We don't believe the denials coming out of Vladimir Putin's mouth."

Lawmakers should also consider ramping up sanctions against Russia and demand that Russia extradite the 12 intelligence agents indicted by Mueller, he added.

Asked by Stephanopoulos whether he believes Putin has compromising information on Trump, Flake said, "I have a hard time believing that."

"But it certainly is the easiest explanation and I think that's why so many have gone to it.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Jul172018

Trump tells Hannity Russians 'have no information on Trump'

ABC News(HELSINKI, Finland) -- In his first interview following a summit and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, President Donald Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News he thought Putin was "very, very strong" and complained that the "phony witch hunt" into Russia's interference in the 2016 election has driven a "phony wedge" between the two nations.

"Ninety percent of the nuclear power in the world between these two nations, and we've had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart," Trump said, going on to say he thinks the probe is the biggest impediment to stronger relations. "It's the thing that he told me when he went in. He said, 'What a shame.'"

The president reiterated that Putin strongly denied collusion and also brushed off the idea Russia had compromising information on Trump.

"He said there was no collusion whatsoever. He said it as strong as you can say it. They have no information on Trump," Trump said. "And one thing you know, if they had it, it would have been out."

The president said that although he believes U.S.-Russian relations were at a historic low point just prior to his meeting with Putin, he is now hopeful for cooperative relations going forward.

"It was great today, but I think it was really bad five hours ago," Trump said. "I think we really had a potential problem. Dealing with two nuclear nations. At 90 percent of the nuclear power in the world between these two nations, and we've had a phony witch hunt deal it drive us apart."

In addition to his comments at the press conference, Putin again denied any Russian interference in the U.S. election in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

"Interference with the domestic affairs of the United States -- do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" Putin said. "This is utterly ridiculous."

Putin also denied to Wallace that his government has "compromising material" on Trump.

"We don't have anything on them," Putin said. "I don't want to insult President Trump when I say this -- and I may come as rude -- but before he announced that he will run for presidency, he was of no interest for us."

In an interview with Russian TV outlet Channel 1, Putin offered compliments of Trump following their summit, saying he was an "interesting conversation partner."

"He is a very qualified person, he knows the material, he listens, he takes in arguments, he keeps his own opinion on some questions," Putin said.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Jul162018

Head of intelligence community fires back after Trump casts doubt 

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump hedged on whether he agrees with the intelligence community on its conclusion that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election at a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, Monday.

"People came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others -- they said they think it's Russia," 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."

Trump added that while "I have great confidence in my intelligence people," Putin gave him a very strong denial.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, head of the U.S. intelligence community, reaffirmed his conclusion that Russia had indeed tried to sway the election in a statement published after Trump's remarks.

"We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security," Coats wrote.

Trump later reiterated his support for the intelligence community on Twitter, while adding that diplomacy between Russia and the U.S. must also be a priority.

"As I said today and many times before, 'I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people,' he tweeted. "However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!"

Former homeland security advisor to Trump and ABC News contributor Tom Bossert, who said he hopes the president did not mean to imply he trusts Putin over his own intelligence officers, agreed with Coats.

"I've seen that intelligence, I believe it, I've concluded that there was Russian meddling," he said.

Bossert said that while he understands why Trump would be defensive on the topic, he believes the president needs to better differentiate between the political attacks against him and the assessments of America's intelligence agencies.

"It is extremely infuriating and frustrating to stand up day after day, as he does, and take questions -- I believe in his view, baseless questions -- that undermine the credibility of his presidency and the legitimacy of the election he fought so hard for," Bossert said. "But that doesn't change the fact on days like today when you're on a world stage and you're the commander in chief of the United States of America, I think you have to put those domestic political frustrations aside and you've got to answer the questions in a way that provides confidence to our intelligence community."

Several Republican lawmakers also weighed in.

“I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again: The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said.

Senator Marco Rubio likewise affirmed his support of the intelligence community's findings.

“What the president said today is not accurate," he said. "The intelligence community has assembled probably an unparalleled amount of evidence in regards to the Russian, not just efforts to interfere in 2016, but ongoing efforts to interfere in American society."

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally."

"There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence," Ryan said.

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Monday
Jul162018

'Bizarre' and 'shameful': Republicans lead responses to Trump news conference with Putin

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The response from lawmakers to President Trump’s press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin was swift and almost universally negative, with especially critical statements coming from members of Trump’s own party.

Sen, Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: "Putin only understands strength and I did not think this was a good moment for our country."

"I felt like, that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength and I just felt like the president’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover. And I’m disappointed in that," Corker told reporters on Capitol Hill.

"When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies, who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency that he gave between them and what Putin was saying," he added.

"They definitely interfered in our election," Corker continued. "That’s not debatable. And again, I just don’t know what it is about the president that he continues to deny that it occurred. I get the feeling, firsthand actually, that sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally."

Asked how much he thought Putin gained from the encounter, Corker responded: "I think he gained a tremendous amount. Here he has been ostracized on the world stage."

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory, " Sen. John McCain said in a statement.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant," McCain said from Arizona, where he's battling brain cancer.

“I’ve said a number of times and I’ll say it again. The Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement, according to his office.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, normally a staunch Trump supporter, tweeted: "President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately."

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying "the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally."

"There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence," Ryan said. "The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., was one of the first members of Congress to issue a written response to the press conference, taking particular issue with Trump’s assertion that both countries are responsible for the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” Sasse said.

During the 45-minute press conference, Trump said he didn’t “see any reason” why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, despite the unanimous conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, asserted that there was “zero collusion” between the two governments and called Putin a “good competitor,” which he described as a compliment.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., another consistent Trump critic, called the press conference “shameful.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has lately been muting his criticism of Trump in order to better position himself to accomplish policy goals, didn’t go as far as Flake or Sasse but did say the president should have used the press conference to denounce Russia’s interference.

In a separate tweet, Graham also warned that he would “check the soccer ball for listening devices,” referencing the ball Putin handed Trump during the press conference, and which Trump tossed to his wife, First Lady Melania Trump.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a frequent ally of Trump’s, did not criticize Trump but did restate the facts, which in and of itself was a repudiation of what the president asserted during the press conference.

He added that the U.S. must work to secure all future elections “regardless of what Vladimir Putin or any other Russian operative says.”

Democrats also responded quickly, describing the press conference and the other events of Trump’s Western Europe junket, which also took him to a NATO conference and London, England, in fatalistic terms.

“Starting with the president’s trip to NATO and ending with his shameful performance at today’s press conference, President Trump has strengthened our adversaries while weakening our defenses and those of our allies,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer also mused about why Trump would continue to be so deferential to the Russians, suggesting it might be because Putin has something compromising about Trump that he is hanging over his head.

"Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump," Schumer said.

Putin responded to a question about that during the press conference, calling such a notion "rumors" and saying he didn't know Trump when he visited Russia before becoming president, but he did not outright deny it.

“That press conference was a disgrace,” House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., wrote in his own statement. “Because of the President’s reckless and disgusting behavior, the entire week has been a disaster for American leadership and our standing in the world.”

Other Democrats, including Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner, whose panel is investigating Russia’s interference in the election, issued their immediate reactions on social media.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, listed several historic locations where previous wartime adversaries surrendered and added the location of the Trump/Putin meeting.

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