President Trump did not heed the warnings of his own national security advisers Tuesday when he called and congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection victory.
Ahead of his chat with Putin, Trump received talking points from his staff, the Washington Post reported, including a sternly worded admonition that read “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
Trump also ignored his own aides’ talking points directing him to condemn Putin for the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy living in the U.K., an incident the president himself has said appears to have been ordered by Moscow.
After conversation with Putin, Trump told reporters the two leaders had a “very good call.” As news of the omissions spread around Washington, many of Trump’s fellow Republicans criticized the president.
An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election. https://t.co/lcQTBi7CA1
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2018
“The president can call whomever he chooses,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “When I look at a Russian election, what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results, I’m always reminded of the elections they have in almost every communist country, where whoever the dictator was of the moment, always got a huge percentage of the vote. So, calling him wouldn’t have been high on my list.”
In Tuesday’s briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders offered a different take on Trump’s offer of congratulations. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Sanders told reporters. “What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them — how they operate.”
Trump’s relationship with the Russian leader continues to roil Washington, especially in light of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible ties between the Kremlin and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Today, at least, the investigation seemed but an afterthought.
“We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future,” Trump told reporters.