Amid Bipartisan Anger, Trump Defends His Congratulatory Call to Putin

His justification follows a report that the president had specific instructions not to do it.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection victory on Sunday—an outcome most of the international community had deemed a foregone conclusion—and continued his longstanding view that a cozy relationship with the Kremlin was more favorable to the United States than a negative one.

The justification comes amid mounting frustration by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over the congratulatory phone call. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Wednesday slammed the conversation and said that he would have personally refused to talk to a “criminal” such as Putin. On Wednesday, Trump portrayed the criticism as just another media-generated plot to force him to unfairly punish Putin.

But even the White House staff was not enthusiastic about the call. According to the Washington Post, the president ignored specific briefing instructions from his own aides not to congratulate Putin. The fast-moving leak has reportedly infuriated White House chief of staff John Kelly.

The Trump administration on Wednesday attempted to convince the Senate Judiciary committee that it was taking steps to ensure Russia will not be able to interfere in upcoming US elections, but lawmakers did not seem convinced. “I hear no sense of urgency to really get on top of this issue,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

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