President Trump attempted to defend his controversial congratulatory call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, blaming the media for the backlash.
Trump, who reportedly ignored a warning from top national security advisers insisting he not make the call, has long faced criticism for his willingness to work with Putin.
“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also),” Trump wrote. “The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Both Republicans and Democrats chided the President for calling Putin and not confronting him on election meddling in Russia, election interference in the U.S. and other countries, atrocities in Syria and a recent high-profile assassination attempt in England.
“I haven't heard anybody in the legislative branch say they think it’s a great idea,” Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said of the friendly call. “I don't think it's a great idea.”
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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) tore into the Russian leader when asked about the conversation.
“I don’t think I’ll talk about Trump making a phone call, but I’m very happy to make a comment on what you asked me,” he said. “I think Putin’s a criminal. What he did in Georgia, what he did in Ukraine, what he’s done in the Baltics, what he’s done in London, poisoning people with nerve gas. That’s a criminal activity. I wouldn’t have a conversation with a criminal.”
Trump’s ties to Russia and his calls for warmer relations have faced added scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigates Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Mueller is also examining whether anyone in the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin and possible obstruction of justice on part of the President.
Former CIA chief John Brennan said Wednesday he believes the Russians may “have something” on President Trump.
“I think he’s afraid of the president of Russia,” Brennan told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’m saying that perhaps the Russians have something and that’s why Mr. Trump is concerned.”
Trump and his supporters have incorrectly asserted that Mueller’s investigation was founded on a salacious dossier that included claims that the Russian government could blackmail the President.
The blowup over the call became entwined in a debate about White House leaks after reports circulated that Trump was warned against speaking to Putin.
Aides had included guidance in Trump’s talking points for the call to Putin stating: “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” a senior administration official told the Associated Press.
The White House said in a statement it would be a “fireable offense and likely illegal” to leak Trump’s briefing papers.