Senior Democrats called on President Trump on Friday to cancel his planned summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, unless he was prepared to challenge the former KGB official over the U.S. indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives for meddling in the 2016 election.
The 29-page grand jury indictment, which Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein announced Friday, became the latest partisan ammunition in the politicized battle over the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The White House quickly fired back, saying the Helsinki summit was still on.
“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,” Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement. “This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”
The indictment charges a dozen Russians for hacking computer networks used by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee, state election offices and other entities. U.S. intelligence agencies have said the Kremlin sought to undermine Clinton’s chances and to help Trump win by leaking stolen emails, using fake social media accounts, and other techniques.
“Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday. Unless Russia takes “demonstrable and transparent steps” to guarantee it won’t interfere in future elections, the summit should be canceled, he said.
Other top Democrats joined his call, arguing that Trump must confront Putin over the indictment — or cancel his first formal summit with the Russian president.
“There should be no one-on-one meeting between this president and Mr. Putin,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told a news conference. “There needs to be other Americans in the room.”
He said the meeting should be canceled unless Trump makes the indictment a “top priority” on the summit agenda.
The “charges provide hard evidence that Russian intel agents attacked America to boost their favorite candidates, undermine others, and influence our elections,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said on Twitter. She told Trump to “cancel your ridiculous Putin summit and get your butt on a plane back to the United States.”
Eighteen Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed a letter Friday raising concerns about Trump’s disparaging comments about U.S. allies at the NATO summit this week and his plan to meet Putin alone on Monday before a broader session with their advisors.
“Unfortunately, due to your constant expressions of sympathy for Vladimir Putin, your conflicts of interest, and your attacks on our closest allies, we do not have confidence that you can faithfully negotiate with the Russian leader, and we urge you to cancel the meeting,” the letter stated.
The latest indictment comes after Mueller had obtained a related indictment against 13 other Russians in February. None is likely to see the inside of a U.S. courtroom because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.
Republican lawmakers roundly denounced the latest evidence of Russian meddling, though few called for the cancellation of the meeting or other penalties.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said Trump should use the Helsinki summit to challenge Putin on the charges outlined in the indictment, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and its military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said if Trump “is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on Twitter that the Russian cyberattack was “not a Republican or a Democrat view — it is simply the reality.” He added: “All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America's friend, and he is not the president's buddy.”
“I’ve said consistently that Russia worked to undermine our elections in the U.S.,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said on Twitter. “I continue to believe the special counsel should follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Fawcett is a special correspondent.