GOP Lawmakers Spent Independence Day In Russia Capitulating To Russian Officials
While Americans celebrated the birth of American democracy, Republican lawmakers cozied up to the Russians who are actively working to undermine it
The scene was celebratory. A band was playing songs from the band Chicago, as Republican Representatives of the United States Congress toasted cocktails to celebrate America’s Independence Day…in Russia.
The July 4th party reportedly came after a delegation of eight Republican lawmakers held meetings with Russian officials in an effort to “improve our relationship” with Russia – the foreign adversary who interfered in America’s 2016 election and is set to do so again in the midterms. The first congressional delegation since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 consisted of Senators Richard Shelby (AL), Ron Johnson (WI), Steve Daines (MT), John Thune (SD), John Kennedy (LA), Jerry Moran (KS), John Hoeven (ND), and Representative Kay Granger (TX). The meetings were held in preparation of the July 16th Trump-Putin summit in Finland, which is just days after the NATO summit in Brussels.
According to NPR, they were welcomed to St. Petersberg by Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, a former KGB officer, and Putin ally. Then in Moscow, the Republicans notably met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Former Ambassador (now a member of Russia’s parliament) Sergey Kisylak, who met with multiple Trump campaign officials (including AG Jeff Sessions) during the 2016 campaign and spoke about sanctions relief with Michael Flynn during the Trump transition. (Reminder: President Trump met with Lavrov and Kisylak in the Oval Office the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey, reportedly telling them “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job…I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”)
The meetings were reportedly conciliatory, with Senator Shelby telling Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodi, “I’m not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth…I’m saying that we should all strive for a better relationship.”
Senator Kennedy claimed pressed Russia on various issues, but referred to them as “our friends.”
“I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year. I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”
Russia appeared to have a different recollection. Rant’s Greg Fish translated some of the coverage. Russian state media said the delegation appeared to put a “weak foot forward.” Russian Commentator Igor Korotchenko, said of the delegation, “We have to talk to them from higher ground. They came here. That means they need us; we don’t need them.”
Russian media also played bombastic rhetoric from the Senators and asked officials who met them whether their rhetoric in private matched their tough talk. In response, the official pointed out Senator Kennedy, whose hammering on Russia’s apparent economic weakness and shortsightedness was featured at length. The Russian official said, “at the end of our discussion, when the leader of the delegation, Richard Shelby asked Senator Johnson if he had any questions or comments for us, he said ‘I have nothing to say.’ He chose to remain silent.” This amused the audience. The official went on to say that he hoped “during this trip, our discussion partners will manage to turn their brains around to a normal direction.”
A member of the Russian parliament recalled the meetings, striking a similar tone. The Washington Post reported:
Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov, on the other hand, said he had met with many American lawmakers in years past and that this meeting “was one of the easiest ones in my life.” The question of election interference, he said, was resolved quickly because “the question was raised in a general form.”
These meetings were held as the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee released a report reiterating their unequivocal support of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia not only interfered in the 2016 election but that their goal was to help candidate Donald Trump become President Donald Trump.
Last week, President Trump once again expressed doubt about the U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusion, taking President Vladimir Putin’s word.
Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2018
Trump continued this praise of Putin at a rally in Montana this week.
Donald Trump, mocking those concerned about his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin: “You know President Putin is KGB” … “Putin is fine. He’s fine. We are all fine, we’re all people.” pic.twitter.com/wQ3hLufFGs
— #MarchForTruth (@MarchForTruth17) July 5, 2018
This comes after President Trump spent weeks attacking America’s NATO and G7 allies with tariffs and insults that many see as unjustified. All while striking a conciliatory tone with authoritarians like Putin and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un.
What we witnessed in 2016 was an orchestrated effort by Russia, a hostile foreign power, to undermine American democracy and help elect Donald Trump. What we appear to be witnessing today, is the return on their investment.
All the while, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference (espionage, coordinated propaganda, etc.), the Trump campaign’s potential collusion, and President Trump’s potential obstruction of justice is still in full swing. It also probes financial crimes on the part of Trump’s associates as well as international corruption involving Russia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc. The investigation has yielded at least 76 charges against 23 people or companies, and 5 guilty pleas (3 of which came from Trump’s associates). With new reports regarding Russian oligarchs attending exclusive parties at Trump’s Inauguration and Mueller’s increased interest in probing the money that flowed through Trump’s inaugural committee, this is far from over.
The substantial findings of the Russia investigation haven’t stopped the White House, House Republicans, and conservative media from waging a disinformation campaign in an attempt to discredit the Justice Department.
This investigation also hasn’t deterred President Trump from wanting to maintain a relationship with President Putin. In spite of the evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russian Government, President Trump is reportedly planning for a one-on-one, off-the-record meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the July 16th summit.
I end this piece with a reminder that Russia hacked the Republican National Committee’s servers and domains but never leaked the information.