Arizona Sens. Flake, McCain rip Trump’s performance alongside Putin
PHOENIX — John McCain and Jeff Flake, Arizona’s Republican U.S. senators, ripped into President Donald Trump for his comments while sharing the stage Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling the performance “disgraceful” and “shameful.”
Flake, who isn’t running for re-election and has been a frequent critic of the president, took to Twitter after Trump and Putin held a joint news conference on Monday during their summit in Helsinki, Finland.
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. This is shameful.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 16, 2018
Flake apparently was referring to Trump’s response when asked who was at fault for the decline in relations between the the U.S. and Russia.
“I hold both countries responsible,” Trump said. “I think that the United States has been foolish. I think that we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office.”
McCain responded by tweeting out a link to a full statement, which called the meeting “a tragic mistake.”
Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” McCain said in the statement. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
U.S. Rep. Kirsten Sinema (D-Arizona), who is running for the seat Flake is vacating, issued a statement saying she was “highly disturbed” by Trump’s comments.
“Russia is an authoritarian regime that has attacked our democracy and continues to undermine the security of the United States and our allies,” her statement said. “I stand with our men and women in the U.S. intelligence community, and am highly disturbed by President Trump’s statements supporting Putin’s baseless, false claims of innocence.”
A statement by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) had a similar sentiment: “President Trump’s meeting today with Vladimir Putin of Russia was an appalling display of self-serving posturing by both men. Americans should expect such behavior from President Putin. They should not expect, however, to be misrepresented and abandoned by the president of the United States.”
On Friday, the special counsel investigating interference in the 2016 U.S. elections issued indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers.
At the time, Flake tweeted that the indictments reaffirmed that Russia interfered with the elections.
Mr. President, as today’s indictments reaffirm, election interference is not a question to be asked of Vladimir Putin, but a statement to be made to Vladimir Putin: You interfered in our elections.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) July 13, 2018
While on stage with Putin, however, Trump criticized the investigation led by Robert Mueller for playing a role in the conflict between the countries.
“It has had a negative impact upon the relationship between of two largest nuclear powers in the world. … It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe,” Trump said.
The Arizona lawmakers weren’t the only members of Congress to take issue with Trump’s performance.
House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a strongly worded statement, 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.”
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.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called it “bizarre” and “flat-out wrong” for Trump to suggest that both countries are to blame for their deteriorated relationship.
Top Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said never in the history of the country has a U.S. president supported an adversary the way Trump supported Putin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.