Fla. Democrats rip, Republicans disagree with Trump defense of Putin

Updated July 16, 2018
HELSINKI, FINLAND - JULY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak to the media during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. The two leaders met one-on-one and discussed a range of issues including the 2016 U.S Election collusion. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s equivocating response to his own administration’s conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 election drew outraged responses from Florida Democrats on Monday while Republican Sen. Marco Rubio faulted the president for ignoring “probably an unparalleled amount of evidence” of Russian meddling.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally who’s running for U.S. Senate, was sharply critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin while avoiding any mention of Trump in remarks to reporters late Monday.

The candidate Trump has endorsed for Florida governor — U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast — called reports of Russian interference “credible.” But DeSantis didn’t criticize Trump’s response, instead blaming Russia’s actions on former President Barack Obama.

Trump stood alongside Putin in Helsinki less than 72 hours after special counsel Robert Mueller issued an indictment charging 12 Russian military intelligence officials with stealing data from Democrats and attempting to hack elections systems in Florida and other states in 2016.

When asked during a press conference,Trump refused to validate his own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and other administration officials who have concluded that Russia interfered in 2016.

“My people came to me, Dan Coats, came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.

Calling Putin’s denials “extremely strong and powerful,” the American president then commended former KGB agent Putin for inviting Mueller’s team go to Russia to “work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

Rubio, in an Atlantic Council panel discussion shortly afterward, flatly disagreed with Trump and said the president’s talks with Putin are based on a flawed premise.

“What the president said today is not accurate. The intelligence community has assembled probably an unparalleled amount of evidence in regards to the Russian, not just efforts to interfere in 2016, but ongoing efforts to interfere in American society,” Rubio said.

“All I can speculate is that there is an effort underway to figure out if by being nice to Vladimir Putin there is a way that we can establish a better working relationship, which in a perfect world would not be a bad thing between two nations that possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons,” Rubio said. “The flaw in that … is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship with the United States because he views the world, he views geopolitics, as a battle between the strong and the weak.”

Scott blasted Putin in Jacksonville, according to a tape of his remarks provided by Scott’s campaign.

“Putin is not our friend. Putin is not our ally. I don’t trust Putin. It clearly appears that Russia tried to meddle in our election… As a senator I’m not going to trust Putin. I’m never going to consider him to be an ally and I’m going to be very skeptical of anything he says,” Scott said.

Asked specifically about Trump’s remarks, Scott repeated his criticism of Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during an interview with "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

DeSantis told Fox News in an afternoon interview that the Mueller indictment and a House Intelligence Committee report are “credible in terms of assigning blame, culpability to Russia.”

But DeSantis said Trump should have used the internationally watched news conference with Putin to blame Obama for Russia’s actions.

“In terms of the meddling, I think the point to make, that the president could make very easily, is this happened when Obama was president and one of the reasons it happened, I think, is because people in the Russian government didn’t think Obama would do anything,” DeSantis said.

“So I think the president had an opportunity to point that out and say, you know, there’s a new sheriff in town. Because his administration has been tougher on Russia than Obama. For example, we tried to get legal aid to Ukraine so it could defend itself against Russian oppression. Obama opposed that. President Trump supports that. So he’s got a story to tell and I think that he should try to do that,” DeSantis said.

Some other Florida elected officials weighed in on Twitter:

• U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democrat: “The president’s refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all. Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that’s a fact. The president’s unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing. The President’s constitutional duty is to uphold the rule of law, not to take the side of Vladimir Putin.”

• U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton: “@realdonaldtrump didn’t hold Putin responsible, & he didn’t say one negative word about Putin & his attack against our country. Our President likes to talk tough, but when it came time to take a strong stand on behalf of the US, he completely and utterly failed.”

• U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee: “No friend of America would willingly try to cause chaos and confusion in our election system. It is clear from the findings in the Intelligence Community’s assessment that Russia tried to undermine the fundamental sanctity of our democracy and our basic values. I stand by that assessment and I am fully confident that Russia will continue to be a malicious actor in the future. We must continue to guard ourselves and our way of life against those that wish to do us harm.”

• U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: “Never before has a sitting President met with his Russian counterpart from such a position of weakness. It’s disgraceful that @POTUS is parroting Russian propaganda in #Helsinki. He repeats Putin’s lies while disregarding the unanimous conclusion from our own Intelligence Community and ignoring DOJ’s indictment of 12 Russian spies who interfered in the election to help him win. Today was a shameful, dark day in our nation’s history. @POTUS is selling out our country, weakening our democracy, and siding with those who seek to do us harm. Instead of praising Putin, our President should be holding him accountable.”

• U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City: “Vladimir Putin lives by the adage of admit nothing, deny everything and level counter accusations, so of course he denies it. Russia is not our ally and attempts to meddle in American elections cannot be tolerated.”

• U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach: “Trump confirmed today that he is no more than Putin’s puppet. When asked whether he believes more in the entire U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusion that Russia interfered with our elections or with Dictator Putin’s, he sided with Putin. A new low, even for this President.”