WASHINGTON — Key Democratic lawmakers are calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the indictment of 12 Russians hackers for meddling in the U.S. election.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner, D-Va., House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D−Wash., 19 Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and were among Democrats who said Friday that Trump should back out of a one-on-one meeting at the Helsinki summit.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., was one of few Republicans to weigh in, saying if the president “is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward.”
The indictments expose a plot by Putin’s government to weaken American institutions, and despite warnings from military and intelligence leaders, he said. He further accused the White House and Congress of taking "insufficient action … to strengthen our cyber defenses, safeguard our election systems, and deter further destabilizing activities.”
The pressure came after the Justice Department announced Friday that indictments were handed down charging Russian intelligence officials with hacking various computers, including in Hillary Clinton’s Campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
“These indictments are further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win,” Schumer said in his statement.
“President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections. Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”
Reed, earlier in the week, spearheaded a measure supporting NATO, which passed 97–2 in the face of Trump’s confronting alliance members over burden sharing at their summit in Brussels . In an interview with MSNBC, Reed said Trump’s attacks on NATO were “doing what Vladimir Putin has been trying to do for many years now.”
“In light of this stunning indictment by the Justice Department that these Russian conspirators attacked our democracy and were communicating with Americans to interfere in our election, President Trump should immediately cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” Reed’s Friday statement said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel and the panel’s other Democrats sent Trump a letter Friday expressing deep concern about the President meeting with Putin in light of the accusations in the indictments, which they called “a direct attack on our democracy.” (Smith and HASC member Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., joined their letter.)
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who serves on the SASC and Senate Judiciary Commitee, joined the chorus of Democrats who said the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was not the witch hunt Trump and other Republicans have alleged. He also argued the Putin meeting should be cancelled.
“The attack on our democracy was a deliberate, destructive act of the Russian government,” Blumenthal said. “There was no 400 pound hacker sitting on his bed. This criminality was perpetrated and performed by Vladimir Putin’s fellow KGB thugs and intelligence agents acting on his behalf – and their purpose was to aid President Trump’s campaign.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a statement saying that while Trump should still attend the summit, he “must demand and secure a real, concrete and comprehensive agreement that the Russians will cease their ongoing attacks on our democracy.”
House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., seemed in a statement Friday, to suggest the indictments would provide Trump with ammunition to talk tough with Putin at the meeting, if he’ll use it, and he challenged his Republican colleagues: “Whose side are you on? Ours or Putin’s?”
One SASC Republican, Sen. Ben Sasse, reacted with a statement calling for unity against Putin, saying the Russian leader, “is not the President’s buddy.” He did not call for the meeting to be cancelled.
“The U.S. intelligence community knows that the Russian government attacked the U.S. This is not a Republican or a Democrat view – it is simply the reality,” said Sasse, of Nebraska. “All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America’s friend, and he is not the President’s buddy. We should stand united against Putin’s past and planned future attacks against us.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.