GOP Sen. Bob Corker said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was probably celebrating after his joint appearance with US President Donald Trump.
“He knows he gained a lot,” said Corker, the retiring senator from Tennessee, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. “I would guess he’s having caviar right now.”
Corker’s comments to reporters on Capitol Hill came after the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump said he did not “see any reason why” Russia would have been behind attempts to interfere in the 2016 election – a break from the conclusions of the US intelligence community and his own top national security advisers. Corker’s remarks on Monday joined criticism from some others in his party who took issue with Trump’s comments and spoke out against Russia.
Corker said Putin “gained a tremendous amount” from the day’s meeting, having gone into it as an “ostracized” figure on the global stage but leaving as the recipient of relatively positive commentary from the US President.
Corker said he was “disappointed and saddened” that Trump would equate the statements of the intelligence community with the Russian President’s and had sharp words for Trump’s approach in general.
“I felt like that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength,” Corker said. “And I just felt like the President’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover, and I was disappointed in that.”
Corker is a frequent critic of Trump’s approach to foreign policy, and expressed concern last week that US leadership was “diminishing” around the world.
“I think there are ways of communicating with your friends, and sometimes it feels like we punch our friends in the nose and hold our hand out to people who are working strongly against us, like Russia, and Putin,” Corker said last week.
The Senate, at the outset of Trump’s trip, passed a symbolic motion in support of NATO, and Corker, in his comments on Monday, cited bipartisan support within Congress during previous votes on sanctions measures.