COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County’s congressmen said they believe Russia remains a threat to national security.
Beyond that, they took differing stances after President Donald Trump met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and accepted his assurances Russia did not interfere with the 2016 election.
Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Monroe, seemed to choose his words carefully. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia, said Trump betrayed the American people Monday.
“It’s no secret that Russia does not have our best interests at heart, and its hostile actions to undermine elections across the globe are deeply concerning,” Hice said in a statement Monday.
“I take our national security — and the threat that Russia poses to democratic processes worldwide — extremely seriously.”
Hice said his work on the House Armed Services Committee and briefings from the intelligence community about Russia lead him to believe the U.S. “must hold Russia accountable for its continued aggression.”
“First and foremost, America must continue to bolster our defenses in order to better protect the integrity of our democratic institutions,” he said.
Hice’s office did not immediately provide answers to questions about Trump’s statement that he takes Putin at his word on election interference despite the assurances of American intelligence officers.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said in Helsinki, Finland.
Trump said there are “two thoughts” on the matter: American intelligence leaders who believe Russia interfered in the election, and Putin’s dismissal of the allegations.
“I have confidence in both parties,” Trump said.
Johnson said he was not pleased by the president’s performance in Finland.
“In light of President Trump’s outrageous and disgraceful performance at today’s press conference, the obvious question is, Why does President Trump refuse to criticize Vladimir Putin about anything?” Johnson said in a statement. “It must be because Putin knows something that President Trump doesn’t want the rest of us to know.
“If that is true, then President Trump has put his own interests above those of the nation that he is sworn to protect and serve. Such action is a betrayal of the trust and confidence of the American people, and could be called treasonous.”
Neither Hice nor Johnson, through their offices, immediately answered questions asking for comments about Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s statement calling Trump’s statements Monday “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” adding that “no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
But Johnson said the summit should serve as a wake-up call for Trump supporters.
“Sadly, Trump voters who were deceived by the xenophobic dog whistle ‘Make America Great Again’ must now realize that a white nationalist U.S. president is selling out America to the international white nationalism movement led by Vladimir Putin.”
Rep. Karen Handel, R-Roswell, said she supports the findings of U.S. intelligence.
“As I’ve said before, Russia is not our friend; Russia is not an ally,” she said. “Based on U.S. intelligence community findings, as well as the findings of the House Intelligence Committee, it is abundantly clear that Russia did indeed interfere with the 2016 elections.“Russia’s actions to undermine our democratic process and divide Americans must not be tolerated, and they must be held accountable.”