A top Russia hawk in Congress slammed President Donald Trump on Sunday for letting Russian election interference slide after a lengthy meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin Friday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Trump repeatedly pressed Putin on Russian interference, which Putin again denied. But rather than focus on what may be an “intractable disagreement,” Tillerson said, both agreed that the meddling was a “substantial hindrance” to improving relations and expressed a “strong desire” to move forward.
South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham described the meeting as “disastrous.”
“Two hours and 15 minutes of meetings, Tillerson and Trump are ready to forgive and forget when it comes to cyber attacks on the American election of 2016,” Graham said on Meet the Press. “When it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot.”
Graham said the president’s stance on meddling was helping Putin.
“To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber attacks is to empower Putin,” Graham said. “That’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Tillerson said after the meeting that the two “agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of non-interference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries.”
Trump and Putin also agreed Friday to set up a cyber security working group, something the president appeared to walk back late Sunday.
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close,” Graham said early Sunday.
Arizona senator John McCain, too, jabbed at the idea.
“I am sure Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort, since he’s doing the hacking,” McCain said on Face the Nation.
Florida senator Marco Rubio also condemned the initiative.
Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
Graham said that Trump’s apparent unwillingness to punish Putin for election interference only fuels his drive to do so. The Senate passed a set of Russia sanctions in June on a vote of 98 to 2.
“It makes me more committed than ever to get sanctions on President Trump’s desk punishing Putin,” Graham said. “There is only one person in Washington that I know of that has any doubt about what Russia did in our election, and that’s President Trump.”
The South Carolina senator described Trump’s tweet that he would not lift sanctions on Russia as a “positive sign.”
Partnering with Putin on a “Cyber Security Unit” is akin to partnering with Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit”. 2/3— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 9, 2017
Graham also praised the administration’s efforts against North Korea and the Islamic State (ISIS). But he could not get behind the president’s stance on Putin and Russian meddling.
“When it comes to Russia, I am dumbfounded, I am disappointed, and at the end of the day he’s hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin is a bad guy who tried to undercut our democracy, and he’s doing it all over the world,” he said.
Trump has questioned the intelligence community assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people in other countries,” Trump said in Poland Thursday. “It could have been a lot of people interfered.”
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard