Democrats are calling on President Trump to cancel his planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin after the Justice Department announced Friday that 12 Russian nationals had been indicted for allegedly trying to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Friday.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters that if Trump is to proceed with the meeting, he's afraid he'd be taken advantage of by Putin.
"In going forward, there should be no one-on-one meeting between this president and Mr. Putin," Warner told reporters at the Capitol Friday. "There needs to be other Americans in the room.”
“Secondly, the president and his team are not willing to make the facts of this indictment a top priority of the meeting in Helsinki. Then, the summit should be canceled," he said.
The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, called on Trump to demand that Putin hand over all of the alleged Russian spies indicted by the U.S., and urged the Treasury Department to immediately impose sanctions Congress has mandated on the Russian intelligence officers indicted.
“In light of today’s indictment, and if the President is going to persist in attending a summit with Vladimir Putin, he must take the forceful but necessary steps to stand up for the United States and defend our national security against the Kremlin’s campaign to undermine democracy at home and abroad," Menendez said in a statement.
So far, Republicans have not called on Trump to cancel the meeting.
But Arizona Sen. John McCain – a frequent critic of both Trump and Putin – said in a statement Friday: "If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward."
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, another frequent Trump critic, took a veiled shot at the president for his forgiving attitude towards the Russian dictator.
"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. 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," Sasse said in a statement.
In recent days, most Republicans have had a cautious attitude toward the highly-anticipated meeting.
“I think by and large [Putin] views the world as a zero-sum game, but he most certainly views the relationship with the United States and Russia as a zero-sum game,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Meaning that in any sort of interaction we're having with Vladimir Putin, there is no scenario in which he envisions that we both do well.”
“I would not diminish the threat that Russia continues to pose to our electoral system, our society, and our politics,” he went on. “We do have to talk to them, but we have to do so very clear-eyed and that is it is a complicated but important relationship.”
On Thursday, GOP Sen. John Cornyn told reporters on the upcoming meeting: “When you're talking it’s much better than fighting.”
But, he conceded, “I hope he goes into this clear-eyed about who he's talking to and what their intentions are, which are not to help the United States and not to help our allies.”
During a press conference with reporters on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed with other Republicans that engaging with Putin is “constructive and good” but, he added: “I think we should be really clear about who we're dealing with.”
Last week, a group of Republican senators traveled to Moscow and met with Russian officials where they say they firmly warned the Russians to stop meddling in U.S. elections.
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a member of the delegation, told CNN Monday that he exchanged tough words with Russian officials and told them to “stop screwing with our election.”
Kennedy said he warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Congress will “double down on sanctions…if you screw with the elections this fall.”
Last year, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved tough new sanctions that targeted Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors over its interference in the 2016 election.
Trump begrudgingly signed the bipartisan bill and claimed multiple aspects of the legislation violated the Constitution.
All eyes now turn to Trump and the tone he plans to strike with the Russian dictator next week.
"We'll be talking about meddling, and I will absolutely bring this up," Trump told reporters during a press conference on Friday in England. "I will absolutely firmly ask the question."
"And hopefully we will have a very good relationship with Russia,” Trump continued.
The Helsinki meeting comes after he blasted close U.S. allies in Brussels during the NATO summit.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump said in a searing critique of Germany’s gas pipeline deal with the country NATO calls its greatest threat to their alliance.
“I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where -- we're supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia," Trump said.
McCain, who remains in Arizona while he battles brain cancer, called the president’s performance “disappointing, yet ultimately unsurprising.”
Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters: “Sometimes it feels like we punch our friends in the nose and hold our hand out to people who are working strongly against us, like Russia and Putin.”
On Trump’s meeting, McCain – who has previously admonished Trump for speaking highly of Putin – said Trump should exhibit loyalty to the country he calls home, rather than to the Russians.
“The president’s task is to reverse his disturbing tendency to show America’s adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies,” McCain said. “He must show that he can be strong and tough with Vladimir Putin—not for its own sake, but to demonstrate his willingness to defend America, its allies, our shared interests, and our common values against those who threaten them.”