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FILE - In this June 14, 2016 file photo, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rohrabacher, who's been Russia's leading defender on Capitol Hill lashed out at the country's critics as he prepared to meet Tuesday, April 4, 2017, with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Paul Holston)
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GOP lawmaker defends Russia, Trump before meeting president

FILE - In this June 14, 2016 file photo, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rohrabacher, who's been Russia's leading defender on Capitol Hill lashed out at the country's critics as he prepared to meet Tuesday, April 4, 2017, with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Paul Holston)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A veteran GOP congressman who’s been Russia’s leading defender on Capitol Hill lashed out at the country’s critics as he prepared to meet Tuesday with President Donald Trump.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California also angrily dismissed the suggestion that Trump has been too cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Because of the brouhaha over nothing that the Democrats are trying to distract everybody’s attention with, the ability to actually try to establish the type of relationship with Russia that we could possibly do is being blocked,” Rohrabacher told a small group of reporters at the Capitol.

“There are people here who want to go to war with Russia, they just say they hate Russia for whatever reason,” Rohrabacher added. “Or they’re trying to exploit some kind of fear among the public that would prevent us from actually having good relations with this very big country and very powerful country.”

Federal law enforcement authorities and bipartisan congressional investigators are looking into Russian meddling in the U.S. election and potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. GOP hawks including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, have raised repeated concerns over Putin’s conduct, including suppressing and killing political enemies and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

McCain and others have also questioned why Trump has been uniformly positive about Putin and has never criticized the Russian leader. But Rohrabacher objected to the notion that Trump was too cozy with Putin, pointing out the two men have never met.

“He’s met with a lot of other leaders and he hasn’t met with Putin yet, so your question is stupid, it’s a stupid question,” Rohrabacher told an Associated Press reporter. “If he’s too cozy, how come he hasn’t even met with him yet?”

Rohrabacher, in his 15th term representing the GOP stronghold of Orange County, has a history on the issue that’s drawn attention in the past. He claims to have unsuccessfully arm-wrestled Putin years ago and has traveled to Russia and worked to alter a 2012 law opposed by Russia that imposed travel bans and froze assets of Russian officials implicated in the jailhouse death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

But Rohrabacher argued Tuesday that the U.S. and Russia have a common enemy in “radical Islamic terrorism” and critics are preventing them from working together to defeat it.

“What’s happening is you’ve got the fake news avalanche trying to create the impression that something sinister is happening with Russia and that is preventing us from negotiating and getting down into a real relationship where we can actually do some good by working together with Russia,” Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher declined to say what he planned to talk about with Trump in their one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office. But he did say he intended to tell the president “what a great job he’s doing and how much I like him.”

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