Colorado lawmakers offer harsh criticism of Trump's press conference with Putin

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, smiles beside Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Key members of Congress from both parties, including some from Colorado, are criticizing President Donald Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.

In particular, they cited Trump’s reluctance to blame Russia for interfering with the U.S. election.

Trump told reporters Monday that Putin said American investigators who have charged 12 Russians with hacking the 2016 presidential election can come work with Russian investigators on the case. Trump called that an “incredible offer.”

A spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office on Friday charged the hackers, declined to comment.

Calling Putin an “adversary to the United States” and Russia a “state sponsor of terror,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, issued a press release Monday encouraging Trump’s administration to avoid “normalizing relations with Russia at zero cost to Putin and his regime.”

“The only ‘reset’ we can have with Russia is when it completely reverses course and begins to act in accordance with civilized norms and international law,” Gardner said in the release. “Nothing should change as of today – Putin’s Russia is not a friend to the United States.”

His colleague, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, issued a statement Monday echoing Gardner’s.

“Putin’s Russia isn’t our friend, won’t be an ally and most certainly won’t stop their rogue behavior against our country, our allies and our interests,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. ” … President Trump should never take Putin’s word at face value and should give greater consideration to U.S. intelligence agencies over the Kremlin’s rhetoric.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Lakewood, tweeted a rhetorical question Monday: “Last week Mueller indicted 12 Russian officials for efforts to disrupt the ’16 election & today Putin himself admitted he wanted Trump to win the ’16 election. Yet continues to take Putin at his word while disregarding evidence from US intelligence agencies. Why?”

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, referred to Trump as “Putin’s puppet” in a Monday tweet.

“It is dangerous, disingenuous & absurd for a U.S. president to take the word of over our intelligence community,” she said.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, made even bolder remarks on Twitter Monday, charging that Trump “failed to protect our democracy” and “emboldened Russia & adversaries at the expense of our allies.”

“In the face of attacks by Putin & on the European Union and NATO, Republicans and Democrats in Congress must work to protect the international institutions that advance our values and freedoms,” Bennet said.

And U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said: “Vladimir Putin is not our friend.”

He added: “There is ample evidence that Russia meddled in our elections. Russia has repeatedly violated international law, shown disregard for national sovereignty, engaged in human rights abuses, propped up state sponsors of terror, and fueled global instability.Russia’s attacks on our electoral system damage the very democratic principles upon which our country was built. I strongly urge President Trump and this Administration to hold Russia and Putin accountable. I will continue to support strong economic sanctions against Russia and measures to protect the integrity of our elections.”

State Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democratic candidate for attorney general who lost the nomination narrowly to Phil Weiser last month, also weighed in via Twitter.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a strongly worded statement Monday, saying there’s “no question” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and noting that U.S. intelligence agencies and a House panel agreed.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” Ryan said, in what was, for the mild-mannered speaker, akin to a reprimand. Ryan said Russia “remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”

Other high-profile Republicans also expressed dismay.

“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “This is shameful.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called it “bizarre” and “flat-out wrong” for Trump to suggest that both the U.S. and Russia are to blame for the deteriorated state of the two countries’ relationship.

Even Trump’s sometimes ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the summit a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”

Graham quipped that Trump ought to check a soccer ball Putin gave to Trump for listening devices, “and never allow it in the White House.”

The Republican rebuke from Capitol Hill came largely from those lawmakers who have been willing to openly criticize the president. But key Republicans, Democrats and others in Washington appeared stunned that Trump refused to publicly condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election or warn against future meddling during the joint press conference with Putin in Finland.

Trump appeared to take the Russian president’s denial of interference at face value while calling the U.S.’s own Justice Department special counsel’s probe as a “disaster.” That U.S. investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, unveiled an indictment Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.

At the joint appearance in Finland with Putin, Trump repeated the Russian leader’s denials about involvement in the election.

“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said of Putin. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Former intelligence chiefs who served under President Barack Obama were scathing in their criticism of his remarks. John Brennan, who served as CIA director between 2013 and January 2017, called the president’s comments “treasonous.”

“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan tweeted.

James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under Obama between 2010 and 2017, described Trump remarks as “truly unbelievable.”

“On the world stage in front of the entire globe the president of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin,” Clapper told CNN. “It was amazing and very, very disturbing.”

Clapper described Putin as an “arch enemy of the United States” who seeks to undermine its democracy and elections. “He has got to be celebrating on the way home to Moscow.”

Democrats sounded similar alarm. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “For the President to side with Putin over his own intelligence officials and blame the United States for Russia’s attack on our democracy is a complete disgrace.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, says never in the history of the country has a president supported an American adversary the way Trump supported Putin. “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak.”

Yet while Trump’s remarks drew criticism in both parties, the reaction was more muted from the Republican side. Key GOP lawmakers at least initially refrained from directly attacking Trump’s performance, and at least one echoed the president’s criticism of the special counsel probe.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California he takes the charges filed by Mueller’s team seriously, but added, “I personally would neither rule in nor rule out the validity of a very interesting and odd-timed indictment of people who can never be brought to justice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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