Sen. John Kennedy told Russian government officials to “stop screwing with our election” on a congressional visit to Russia last week, the Louisiana Republican told CNN on Monday.
Speaking on CNN’s “At This Hour with Kate Bolduan,” Kennedy said he warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Congress will “double down on sanctions … if you screw with the elections this fall.”
This was despite Lavrov’s denial of any Russian interference with elections, which Kennedy “expected.”
Even though Kennedy thought Lavrov to be a “bully” and “belligerent,” the senator thought his message “was delivered.”
“I went (to Russia) to … deliver a message … to the foreign minister, to the speaker of the house, and to a number of their senators,” he said.
The message was “stop screwing with American elections … get out of eastern Ukraine and let them self-determine … get out of Crimea and let Crimea self-determine … stop screwing around in Syria and help us settle the mess. And … do not allow Iran to get a foothold in southern Syria, because if you do that, there’s going to be another war that Israel’s not going to stand for.”
Meeting with Russian government officials also helped inform Kennedy’s perception of the political system there.
“People ask, ‘what sort of political system do they have?’ It’s all about Putin. They don’t have a political philosophy. I mean, what’s the political philosophy of the mafia?” he said.
“The last time the Russian government embraced Western values and democracy was never,” Kennedy said. “We’re not going to convert their political leadership. We’re going to have to contain them.”
Kennedy was joined by fellow Republican lawmakers Sens. Steve Daines, John Hoeven, Jerry Moran, Richard Shelby, John Thune and Rep. Kay Granger on the July 4 visit.
This visit occurs at an especially key time – before President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s face-to-face meeting next week, for which Kennedy’s expectations are “low.”
He reiterated, “You’re not going to be able to convert Putin. You’re going to have to contain him.”