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Graham: Trump-Putin summit must address Russian election interference

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in January, 2017.

STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 28, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump must address Russian election interference in his meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin and challenge any denials, a Republican senator urged Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he will introduce legislation directing Trump to take up on the election issue when he meets Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.

The measure would urge Trump “to bring this matter up with Putin and to tell him if he continues doing what he is doing, he will do so at his own peril and to challenge his denial,” the South Carolina Republican said. “When Putin says Russia did not interfere in our election, he is lying. When he says they won’t do it in the future, he is lying.”

Graham spoke at a meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss defense funding.

Trump reiterated in a tweet Thursday that Putin has denied any meddling in the 2016 presidential election — despite U.S. intelligence findings to the contrary.

In two brief, previous meetings with Putin as president, Trump repeated the Russian president’s denials of any past election meddling. The two met briefly in July at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany and again in November during the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Vietnam.

“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump tweeted Thursday, reiterating comments he made following the Vietnam meeting.

Graham, who is a Trump ally on Capitol Hill, first introduced his measure as an amendment to the defense spending bill but later withdrew it, saying he would re-submit through another Senate committee or introduce it on the full Senate floor.

“I read a tweet today,” Graham said with a laugh. “Guess from who? President Trump. I really appreciate him rebuilding the military and changing our foreign policy in kind of a bold way... He’s going to meet with Putin, fine. I’m all for him meeting with (North Korea’s) Kim Jong Un. I’m all willing for him to meet with Russia, see if we can find common interest.”

But Graham said he wanted to be clear about what was at stake for the Helsinki meeting. He read from the proposed resolution that it is the “unanimous opinion of the U.S. intelligence agencies from both the Trump and Obama administrations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.”

The draft resolution goes on to say that it is also the unanimous opinion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia will interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and in future elections, Graham said.

Graham has remained a staunch critic of Russia and its interference around the world. Recently, Graham said that Russia has gone unchecked when it comes to its aggressive efforts – a critical concern for Trump.

“I just hope the president understands that Russia is not going to stop until they pay a higher price,” Graham said Thursday at the annual conference for Washington, D.C. think tank Center for a New American Security.

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales

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