Trump’s Remarks on Russian Meddling ‘Demoralizing,’ GOP Chairman Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s statements seeming to question whether Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election were “demoralizing” to American intelligence agencies and the damage may not be undone by his attempt to clarify his stance, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said Wednesday.

McCaul called Russia’s interference an "affront to our democracy" and described himself as "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.”

The aftershocks of Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin were continuing to rattle members of Congress from both parties. Trump’s attempt to build a better relationship with Russia has backfired as many lawmakers are now calling for a tougher stance against Russia.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Wednesday said he is going to propose new sanctions against Russia. Senate and House GOP leaders have said they are open to the idea as a way to punish Russia and prevent future election interference.

“Putin is not our friend, he is an enemy of the United States,” McCaul said. “And I think what is concerning about that press conference with Putin is that it seemed like they were friends -- and we’re not.”

Trump said Tuesday he accepts the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election, a day after casting doubt on the findings and noting Putin’s “extremely strong” denial. Trump drew an equivalence between the U.S. findings and the Russian leader’s denial, saying “I have confidence in both parties.”

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