After Mueller indictments, Trump pressured to tell Putin ‘stay out of our elections’
US president blames Obama as calls grow for scrapping the Helsinki summit
Whatever US President Donald Trump had hoped to get out of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Robert Mueller changed the game.
Trump’s goals for the meeting were unclear. But now Trump is under pressure – including from several members of Congress from his own party – to confront Putin about claims he tried to sabotage the election that put Trump in the White House.
Democrats called on him to scrap the summit in protest. That is not happening, the White House said.
And there’s no sign that Trump will demand that Putin turn over the 12 Russian intelligence officials that Mueller, the special counsel indicted this week.
And they probably will never stand trial.
But critics argue that Monday’s meeting in Helsinki has become a pivotal test of Trump’s strength and will to defend election integrity – something they say he has not done so far.
“It will be somewhat more difficult for him to simply go through the motions,” said Daniel Fried, who was assistant secretary of state for Europe under president George W. Bush. “The point is to send Putin a very clear message: stay out of our elections.”
Republican Senator John McCain insisted the indictments add to evidence confirming an “extensive plot” by the Kremlin to sow discord among American voters, attack the 2016 election, and undermine faith in democracy.
“President Trump must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength and demonstrate that there will be a serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world,” said McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008.
“If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” McCain said.
On Saturday, from Scotland, the US president blamed his predecessor Barack Obama, tweeting: “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?”
According to Obama aides, Obama tried to formulate a bipartisan statement on alleged Russian election interference in September 2016, two months before the election, but saw the effort “watered down” by Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump belittled the idea of challenging the Russian president over election interference during a press conference on Friday just before the criminal charges were announced.
The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2018
“I will absolutely, firmly ask the question” to Putin, Trump said at a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. But he suggested there was little point.
“I don’t think you’ll have any ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me,’” Trump said.
Trump has previously shown little appetite for pressing the issue, telling reporters after meeting Putin in Vietnam last November that he had finished discussing it and believed the Russian leader’s denials were sincere.
“He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One. “I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Lawmakers from his own party said on Friday that was no longer enough.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona said Trump must do more than ask.
“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,” Flake said on Twitter.
A chorus of Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump must call off the summit.
“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,” Schumer said.
“Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” he added.
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
The Russians are charged with stealing usernames and passwords of people working in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and hacking into the computer networks of other Democratic Party organisations.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said “today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result”.
Trump has long downplayed Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election and repeatedly referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt”.
Trump suggested at stops in Europe that his primary goal for meeting Putin is a better relationship, though he also said he would discuss Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, the war in Syria and nuclear proliferation.
“We do have political problem where – you know in the United States we have this stupidity going on. Pure stupidity,” Trump told reporters at the Friday press conference with May.
“But it makes it very hard to do something with Russia. Anything you do, it’s always going to be, ‘Oh, Russia, he loves Russia.’”
The indictments are the most detailed allegations so far of how units of Russia’s GRU tried to influence the 2016 election by stealing Democratic emails, then releasing them in ways meant to dominate news headlines as voters made up their minds.