Saying “Putin got a pass,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner says President Donald Trump failed to send a much-needed message to the world that Russian meddling in U.S. elections was unacceptable during Trump’s lengthy press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week.
Speaking on “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, Turner called Trump’s failure to make a strong statement “very serious.”
“We’re talking about meddling in our democracy, penetration of the election apparatus in the various states, meddling in the various campaigns,” he said. “This is something that you would want your president to be very strong on. And clearly, the president in public was not.”
Turner’s words stand in stark contrast to those of his fellow Ohio Republicans, who have been more guarded in their criticism of Trump’s performance at the press conference. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for example, called Trump’s comments during the press conference “troubling.”
Turner said Trump failed to take advantage of an opportunity to send a message to the world that the U.S. would not tolerate Russia meddling in their elections.
“The world knows that Putin and Russia is meddling in other countries,” he said. “We need to have the American president stand strong when we’re asking our allies’ presidents and leaders, prime ministers to stand strong.”
He said while he was “disappointed” in Trump’s comments, he’s still satisfied that U.S. policy against Russia is strong, with the U.S. still standing strong on sanctions against Russia, still supporting NATO allies and still arming the Ukrainians against Russian aggression.
“That has not changed regardless of statements made in Helsinki,” he said.
Still, Turner said, “the importance of the president’s role here goes directly to the heart of our national security and that of our allies,” he said. “And the president needs to stand strong.”
He refused to criticize or explain the silence of fellow Republicans who have not been as publicly critical, saying, “I can only tell you about why I believe it’s important to have this dialogue. If Russia sees any weakness, they fill that vacuum, and you get instability and an impact lessening our national security.”
Turner, a Dayton Republican who sits on both the House Intelligence and the House Armed Services Committee, also took issue with Trump’s criticism during a Fox News interview of the U.S. having to defend countries such as Montenegro if attacked. Montenegro joined NATO last year.
Turner, a former head of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said part of the purpose of NATO is mutual defense: It’s written into Article 5 of the alliance. And Montenegro, he said, has come to the defense of the U.S. – in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He said the alliance “enhances our national security.” He said having them in NATO “takes them out of the sphere of influence” of countries such as Russia, and helps to ensure that if a conflict arises, the tiny nation will side with the U.S. over U.S. rivals.
“We’re glad Montenegro is in NATO and yes, they’re defending us, we’ll defend them,” he said.