Several Georgia GOP officials on Monday carefully distanced themselves from President Donald Trump’s comments that cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections.
Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Reps. Karen Handel and Jody Hice underscored that they believed Russia interfered in the most recent major U.S. election. But they took care not to directly repudiate Trump or his comments.
“Russia’s actions to undermine our democratic process and divide Americans must not be tolerated, and they must be held accountable,” said Handel, R-Roswell, who is currently finishing out her first term in the House.
Other prominent Trump allies in Georgia kept quiet in the hours following the Helsinki press conference in which the commander-in-chief, standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he did not “see any reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election.”
Trump’s comments drew heavy criticism from several prominent Republicans on Capitol Hill. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said the press conference was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
The GOP reaction from Georgia was far more muted.
Many of the president’s most vocal backers, including U.S. Sen. David Perdue and gubernatorial candidates Brian Kemp and Casey Cagle, kept quiet. Many members of Congress were traveling back to Washington on Monday afternoon after spending the weekend in their districts and were unavailable for comment, their offices said.
Isakson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “Russia has done nothing to deserve our trust” and deserves “no special treatment.”
“Nothing from the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki has changed this assessment,” he said.
Hice said the U.S. “must hold Russia accountable for its continued aggression.”
Democratic challengers in the 6th and 7th congressional districts were quick to try and capitalize off Monday’s news conference.
“Where is Woodall and our do nothing Congress? Won't anyone defend the US against this?” said David Kim, who is aiming to take on U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in the fall.
Lucy McBath, who is on the ballot in next week’s 6th District runoff, retweeted a picture Handel’s campaign had shared of her Cavalier Spaniel that had been posted shortly after Trump’s appearance with Putin.
Trump “just sided with Putin over the US intelligence community, and @karenhandel is playing favorites in a cutest dog contest,” McBath tweeted. “This is why we need new leadership in Washington now more than ever.”
The state’s Democratic officials also issued statements condemning the president. Congressman John Lewis, D-Atlanta, said Trump’s comments represented a “betrayal of American interests and a danger to our national security.” His colleague David Scott, D-Atlanta, said Trump’s “disturbing pattern of coddling an adversary weakens our alliances, undermines U.S. intelligence agencies & helps prop up a dictator.”
Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election has been one of the few areas in which politicians from both parties have generally agreed.
Every single Georgia congressman, Republican and Democrat, backed legislation that dialed up sanctions against Moscow and allowed Congress to block the president from lifting future sanctions. The measure passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities last summer.
A spokesman for Ranger Congressman Tom Graves said the five-term Republican “believes the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election” but did not elaborate further.
Perhaps the most forcefully-worded statement came from the Twitter account of former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich. The ex-House speaker and informal Trump adviser said the president needed to clarify his comments on Russia.
“It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected -- immediately,” Gingrich tweeted.
See lawmakers’ full comments below:
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.:
“The Russians have been attempting to influence democratic processes across the world for decades. Russia has done nothing to deserve our trust, and they should receive no special treatment. Nothing from the meeting between President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki has changed this assessment. I was encouraged to see the July 3 bipartisan summary from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that supported the U.S. intelligence community’s 2017 findings that Russia’s cyber operations were extensive and sophisticated in their attempts to influence the 2016 election.”
U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell:
“As I have said before, Russia is not our friend; Russia is not an ally. Based on U.S. intelligence community findings, as well as the findings of the House Intelligence Committee, it is abundantly clear that Russia did indeed interfere with the 2016 elections. Russia’s actions to undermine our democratic process and divide Americans must not be tolerated, and they must be held accountable.”
U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta:
As a member of NATO PA, I know the value of the TransAtlantic alliance & that Russia is a foe to the U.S. & our democratic values. The president’s disturbing pattern of coddling an adversary weakens our alliances, undermines U.S. intelligence agencies & helps prop up a dictator.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta:
“I am deeply disturbed by the outcome of the Helsinki summit. The leader of this nation takes an oath before God to defend this country from all enemies both foreign and domestic, but this president is not defending the American way of life. He seems afraid to hold Russia accountable for its infringement on the election of 2016.
“The FBI, the CIA, and the NSA, including the appointees of this president, have all verified, as has have the investigations of several House committees, that Russia’s interference in our last national election was aimed at swinging the results in favor of one party by destroying the candidacy and the credibility of another.
“The vote is the most powerful, non-violent tool the people have in a democratic society. Its integrity is central to our way of life and must be protected at all costs. That is why efforts to poison and pervert the will of the people through misinformation, deceit, and trickery must be met with the strongest possible rebuke.
“Despite the deepest concerns of the intelligence community at the highest levels of government and the consternation of the Congress of the United States, this president displayed no sense of outrage, no evidence of a rebuke, and no intention to hold Russia accountable for its damage to our electoral process.
“Our weakness in the face of this threat leads to grave concerns about this president’s judgment. Why would he try to rip our relationships with NATO, our proven allies, to shreds and yet cower before an enemy of democracy? This is a betrayal of American interests and a danger to our national security.”
U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe:
“It's no secret that Russia does not have our best interests at heart, and its hostile actions to undermine elections across the globe are deeply concerning. I take our national security – and the threat that Russia poses to democratic processes worldwide – extremely seriously. Since joining the House Armed Services Committee, I have also been briefed on further details from the U.S. intelligence community about Russia's actions, and I will not ignore its behavior. While I certainly hope for better relations in the future, we must hold Russia accountable for its continued aggression. First and foremost, America must continue to bolster our defenses in order to better protect the integrity of our democratic institutions.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville:
“America’s intelligence community and the House Intelligence Committee confirm that Russia attempted to interfere with the United States’ election and has, on many occasions, earned the sanctions that now weigh it down—but this isn’t revelatory. America has long been wise to the fact that every nation that has the ability to spy on us and to meddle in our affairs to advance its own interests will do just that, and those nations should expect us to root out their mischief and hold them accountable for it. While I wish the summit had emphasized our concerns about Russian interference with more force and clarity, the meeting reminds us that the Kremlin continues to deserve America’s mistrust and should, therefore, expect any dialogue with our officials to be undergirded by America’s commitment to pursuing peace through strength.”
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia:
"In light of President Trump’s outrageous and disgraceful performance at today’s press conference, the obvious question is: 'Why does President Trump refuse to criticize Vladimir Putin about anything?' It must be because Putin knows something that President Trump doesn’t want the rest of us to know.
If that is true, then President Trump has put his own interests above those of the nation that he is sworn to protect and serve. Such action is a betrayal of the trust and confidence of the American people, and could be called treasonous.
Sadly, Trump voters who were deceived by the xenophobic dog whistle 'Make America Great Again' must now realize that a white nationalist U.S. president is selling out America to the international white nationalism movement led by Vladimir Putin."
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.