In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s Helsinki comments at his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a freshman Republican senator who initially criticized the president now says he accepts his explanation of what he believes about Russian election interference.
In an interview Wednesday with Powerhouse Politics podcast hosts Rick Klein and MaryAlice Parks, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said Trump’s Tuesday statement that he accepted the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election sufficiently resolved issues Daines had with Trump’s summit statements, calling Trump’s explanation was “very clear.”
After appearing to question the U.S intelligence community’s conclusion during his news conference with Putin on Monday -- noting that Putin had issued a "very powerful" denial -- Trump said Tuesday that he has “full faith” in the intelligence’s community’s findings.
Right after the summit news conference, Daines, one of seven members of a congressional delegation to Russia earlier this month, had broken with Trump and expressed confidence Monday in the intelligence community. In light of Trump’s most recent statement, however, Daines told Powerhouse Politics that the president’s current stance matches his own view.
“The president has stated most recently he has full confidence in our intelligence community and their conclusions. That matches where I’m at. I think that matches where most senators and members of the House are as well,” Daines said.
Daines chose not to speculate on the president’s one-on-one negotiation with Putin, noting that the contents of the conversation are not public knowledge.
“I don't know what was said in the meeting that President Trump had with President Putin. That remains between those two leaders.”
He did not indicate support for Democrats’ efforts to get Congress to hear from the American translator who was in the room with Trump and Putin, saying “the president has the prerogative to have conversations with foreign leaders as he or she sees fit.”
Although Daines emphasized the importance of a relationship between the United States and Russia in light of both countries’ large nuclear stockpiles, Daines pointedly criticized the Russians in light of what he said was “overwhelming” evidence of their election interference.
“The Russians are seeking to undermine democracy,” Daines said. “They don't stand for democracy. They stand to undermine democracy. We must vigorously defend it.”
Daines underscored his support for further congressional action on Russian electoral interference. In his conversation with the Powerhouse Politics hosts, Daines suggested that action would be important because he believed that the Russians are likely to interfere in future elections.
"I think that Congress needs to continue to take a look at -- whether its funding mechanisms, additional policies to prevent foreign interference in U.S. elections. I think this needs to stay as an important issue for Congress because I don't I'm not convinced the Russians are finished.”