U.S. President Donald Trump, left, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President during a news conference in Helsinki, Finland. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Graham Pushes New Russia Sanctions After Trump’s Putin Remarks

(Bloomberg) -- A senior Senate Republican said he’ll propose new sanctions on Russia that could only be waived if the administration certifies Moscow has ceased interfering in U.S. elections.

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a sometime ally of President Donald Trump, said he wants Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority leader Chuck Schumer to cooperate on sending a strong signal that the U.S. won’t tolerate further attempts to meddle in its politics.

“If in fact they are up to it, and I believe they are, we’re running out of time to prepare. So I’m going to tell Mitch McConnell that he needs to get with Schumer and knock off the partisanship and put Team America on the field,” Graham said.

The aftershocks of Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki with Putin in which he seemed to question U.S. intelligence agencies’ finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election were continuing to rattle lawmakers from both parties. Although Trump attempted to clarify his stance on Tuesday, his often-stated goal of improving relations with Russia was dealt a blow in Congress.

Russian Interference

He continued to cause confusion over his position on Wednesday, when during an event at the White House , Trump answered “no” after a reporter asked him whether Russia is still targeting the U.S. That contradicts a statement put out by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats after the Helsinki news conference that cited Russia’s “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”

Immediately afterward many lawmakers, including Graham, said Trump was wrong.

However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wasn’t disputing conclusions that Russia is continuing to threaten U.S. elections. She said Trump’s “no” meant that he didn’t want to take questions. She added that the administration is taking measures to ensure that the election interference “doesn’t happen again.”

Graham said later that he was “reassured unequivocally” that the president wasn’t contradicting the intelligence community’s assessment “that Russia is continuing to attack our critical infrastructure in the 2018 elections.”

GOP Voters

Trump’s political hold over GOP voters has helped him ride out controversies in the past, but hasn’t shielded him from continuing pushback from Republicans over his remarks at the news conference with Putin at his side.

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said Wednesday that he’s “astounded at the inability" of Trump to condemn Russian meddling in the election.

“I don’t understand when he almost sided with Putin over our intelligence community’s assessment,” the Texas Republican said Wednesday during an event at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think it’s demoralizing to our intelligence community.”

One way Congress is responding is by moving to take the sanctions determination out of Trump’s hands.

A bill offered by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland would impose stiff sanctions on Russia’s energy and banking sectors if the Director of National Intelligence -- not Trump -- certifies that Russia interfered in any future election.

Graham said his proposal would impose sanctions that “can be waived only if there is a certification by the DNI and others that they’ve stopped. I want to go ahead and assume they’re doing it because they are."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday he’s willing to bring up sanctions legislation.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.