Lawmakers are “playing politics” with a vital sanctions measure against Russia in response to meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but there has to be consequences for the activities, Rep. Michael McCaul said Friday, just before Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were to head behind closed doors for their long-anticipated meeting.
“I think we are all concerned about the integrity of our democracy,” the Texas Republican, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” program.
“Anyone who has the briefing knows that Russia meddled in our election. I think they are playing politics with the sanctions bill.”
The House had to send the bill back to the Senate on a procedural issue, and now it’s being held up in the House over politics, but it’s “way too important,” McCaul said.
“There has to be consequences for what Russia has done, both in the elections but also in the Ukraine and Crimea, and what they’ve done in eastern Ukraine where they have an ongoing war,” said McCaul.
“We have to stop that aggression. That’s why the sanctions were passed out of the Senate in the first place.”
McCaul said lawmakers intend to get the sanctions bill through the House after they return next week, and it’s crucial that sanctions are done right.
“What we don’t want to do is hurt American interests,” said McCaul. “We want to punish Russia for their bad behavior, what they’ve done. We have to have consequences, but we also don’t want to have other consequences and punish American interests abroad. That’s the balance we are trying to work out. I think we will get there. It’s too important of an issue.”
McCaul said he hopes that Trump’s meeting with Putin will result in discussions about Syria and the fight against ISIS, and about the refugee crisis. He also said he’d like to see talks about dealing with North Korea’s weapons program, the Ukraine, and cyber-meddling.
The meeting is only scheduled for 30 minutes, he pointed out, including time needed for translations.
Trump and Putin both have strong personalities, said McCaul, but the United States does not have much in common with Russia. There are similar interests, though, including on the fight against ISIS, and McCaul said he hopes there will be a mutual understanding to destroy and defeat them.
Trump will have to be firm with Putin, McCaul told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, as he “doesn’t always have our best interests at heart.”
If meddling in the 2016 election is not on the discussion agenda, Trump should bring it up, McCaul further said.
“It is the elephant in the room,” said McCaul. “It’s an important issue to the American people and it’s important for the American president to raise it with him, to let him know that we know it happened, and we’re not going to stand for it, that there will be consequences.
“When I got briefed before the elections by the Obama administration, I urged them to call out Russia and take action. It didn’t really happen. I hope that could happen in this meeting.”
Putin, in an column for a German newspaper denounced cyber hackers, saying they encroach on privacy, but McCaul said he finds that to be a “bit of hypocrisy.”
“I see Russia and of course China’s involved in this as well, but Russia’s one of the major offenders of sovereignty of nations both in this campaign and disinformation warfare,” said McCaul.
“They literally shut down the government in Ukraine last month. They shut down Astonia. They’re continuing to sort of display their capabilities both in stealing intellectual property, espionage, and cyber warfare. I think that should be a topic of discussion as well.”
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