Trump meets with 'Putin's favorite congressman' as Russia story swirls

Story highlights

  • Trump met with Rohrabacher Tuesday
  • He's considered a pro-Russia congressman

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump, amid questions about his campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 election, met Tuesday with Dana Rohrabacher, a California congressman so well-known for his pro-Russia views that he has been referred to as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "favorite congressman."

Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, declined to disclose the focus of the Oval Office conversation, calling it "a general conversation at the President's invitation."
"We have nothing more than that," Grubbs said
    A statement from Rohrabacher's office Tuesday evening said the meeting lasted 45 minutes and included White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
    In the statement, Rohrabacher said Trump was "keen" on his proposal to create a visa program that he said would help pay for Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico.
    Rohrabacher, after operating as an anti-communism congressman during the end of the Cold War, has become a vocal pro-Russia voice in the Republican Party, regularly taking Russia's side in public debates and backing Trump's comments on the country.
    He even has bragged about arm-wrestling and playing soccer with Putin during a trip Russian leaders made to the United States in the early 1990s.
    "We started arguing about who won the Cold War. And so we decided to settle it like men do when they've had too much to drink in the pub. So we got to these arm wrestling matches, and I ended up being paired off with Putin," Rohrabacher said during a 2013 interview with KPCC, a California public radio station. "He's a little guy, but boy, I'll tell ya. He put me down in a millisecond! He is tough. His muscles are just unbelievable."
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    His meeting with Trump comes at a significant time for the administration: Two congressional committees are looking into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, and the FBI is looking into contacts between Trump advisers and Russian operatives during the election.
    Trump has downplayed the investigations and connections.
    "Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years," Trump said in February. He has since said the investigations are an attempt to justify Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss in the presidential election.
    Like Trump, Rohrabacher has downplayed the investigations and the fact that Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
    "Did they try to influence our election? We have tried to influence their elections, and everybody's elections," Rohrabacher told the Los Angeles Times in March. "The American people are being fed information that would lead them to believe that we need to be in a war-like stance when it comes to Russia."
    Rohrabacher also said earlier this year that he planned to take a congressional trip to Russia to work with lawmakers.
    In December, Rohrabacher told The Washington Post that people incorrectly think "Putin is the same as Stalin."
    "That is not the case," Rohrabacher said of the comparison to Russia's dictatorial communist leaders during World War II.
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    The meeting also comes as multiple activist groups in Syria tell CNN that dozens of people, including children, were killed in one of the deadliest gas attacks the country has seen during years of civil war.
    Activists have blamed the attack in the rebel-held city of Khan Sheikhoun on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
    Rohrabacher, in a break with many in his party, has argued that Assad should be the United States' partner in the Syrian civil war.
    "Assad is not our enemy. Neither is Russia our enemy," Rohrabacher said in 2016 during contentious interview with MSNBC. "The radical Islamists who have been murdering Americans by the thousands since 9/11 are the enemy.
    The Trump administration condemned the Syrian attack Tuesday, calling it "reprehensible" and "heinous."
    But spokesman Sean Spicer lay blame on the Obama administration.
    "These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution," he said.