President Donald Trump’s remarks following a meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew fire from South Bend-area Democrats.
At a joint news conference with Putin after their private meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Trump said, “I hold both countries responsible” for poor U.S.-Russian relations. He also called Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia “a disaster for our country. … There was no collusion at all.”
Russia, under Putin’s direction, used hacking and disinformation on social media aimed at turning the election in Trump’s favor, according to a January 2017 report by all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, named in a recent Politico article as a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted that Trump “must resign.”
“Today, friends of mine are risking their lives to serve the US Intelligence Community, as I once did,” Buttigieg tweeted. “For the US president to say they are no more credible than the hostile foreign dictator standing next to him is a national security disaster.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., despite running in what’s expected to be a close race with avid Republican Trump supporter Mike Braun — in a state Trump won by 19 percentage points in 2016 — issued a written statement that minced few words in condemning Trump.
“When given the chance to stand up for our country and its security interests, President Trump instead emboldened President Putin and disregarded the consensus conclusion of the hard-working and patriotic Americans in the intelligence community, including Director of National Intelligence and fellow Hoosier Dan Coats,” said Donnelly, of Granger.
Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Friday had called for Trump to cancel the meeting with Putin, in light of the recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials for the 2016 election interference.
“This meeting was a setback for American national security,” Donnelly said.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a written statement condemning Putin but saying nothing about Trump’s remarks or handling of the meeting.
“Moscow invades and bullies its neighbors, disregards its treaty obligations, seeks to divide NATO, and props up the murderous Assad regime,” Young said. “I have no reason to doubt the clear conclusions of the intelligence community when it comes to Moscow’s attempts to undermine our democracy. When it comes to defending our democratic institutions against foreign subversion and meddling, we are Americans —not Republicans or Democrats.”
Trump said Putin’s denial of an election interference campaign was “extremely strong and powerful.”
Coats issued a statement backing the U.S. intelligence community.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” Coats said, “and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Like Young, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., whose district includes the South Bend area, issued a statement condeming Russia but avoiding any mention of Trump’s remarks.
“Russia is not our ally, and Vladimir Putin is not our friend,” she said. “As DNI Dan Coats reaffirmed this week, it is undeniable Russia interfered in our election and seeks to undermine our democracy. America must continue to stand strong against Putin’s destabilizing actions and prevent further attacks on our country.”
Democrat Mel Hall, challenging Walorski for her seat in November, said Trump sided with Putin Monday and attacked the U.S. intelligence community.
“I do not know what more President Trump needs to see to understand that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections,” Hall said. “Congress must not tolerate this reckless action.”
A campaign spokesmen for Braun did not respond to The Tribune’s requests for comment.