Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said he is working on a resolution to “reaffirm support for the intelligence community,” following President Donald Trump’s comments Monday siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over US intelligence agencies about election interference.
Notably Flake’s measure is not legislation; it is a Senate resolution that would not become law. Flake said his goal is to bring the proposal to the Senate floor and have it pass with unanimous consent by this week or next.
Flake said Tuesday the President threw “basically the whole country under the bus” with his comments and called it disgraceful and “shameful.”
Beyond reaffirming support for US intelligence agencies, Flake said the resolution would call for “some kind of hearing or briefing by those involved” in the private Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki, “to try to find out what happened in that private meeting.”
During a joint press conference in Helsinki with Putin, Trump said while he has “great confidence” in the US intelligence community, Putin was “very powerful” in his denial of Russian interference in the 2016 election, comments that he attempted to walk back Tuesday.
“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,’” Trump said Tuesday. He explained he had reviewed a transcript and video of his remarks.
“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’” Trump said. “Sort of a double negative.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said he is in conversation with Flake and a number of other senators about taking action in response to Trump’s comments Monday.
“I think there is real value in having a broad bipartisan statement that reinforces our support for the intelligence community and the ongoing investigation by special counsel (Robert) Mueller that calls for concrete action to protect our election system,” Coons told CNN Tuesday.
Flake said their hope is to have the resolution passed through by unanimous consent, a Senate procedural move to expedite proceedings, as long as no senator objects.
Flake said he has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the resolution but stopped short of saying that McConnell was in support of the move.
“They’re not saying don’t do this or this is the wrong thing to do,” Flake said.
“There’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this,” McConnell said on Capitol Hill Tuesday after mentioning Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal to impose sanctions on any country that interferes in US elections.
“In the meantime,” McConnell said, “I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018.”
Flake is pushing for McConnell to do more, and sooner. “That’s about as far as he’s gone,” Flake said of McConnell’s consideration of the Rubio proposal. “I think we need to go a little further than that.”
When asked about the criticism that this resolution is largely symbolic and won’t yield tangible results, Flake said the President has wide authority when it comes to foreign policy, but “you try to use whatever leverage you can.”
Flake said Congress needs to also find out if additional sanctions on Russia are appropriate, and also ensure the Russian nationals indicted in Mueller’s investigation are brought to justice.
“That has me concerned because if the President doesn’t believe our intelligence services, doesn’t believe that those indictments are appropriate, then the administration might not work as hard as they should to bring these people justice,” he said.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to identify Sen. Jeff Flake’s proposal as a resolution and not a bill.
CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty, Kevin Liptak and Manu Raju contributed to this report.