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Lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to cancel a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after special counsel Robert Mueller charged against 12 Russians for interfering in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election Friday.
Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives, alongside a growing list of other Democratic lawmakers, called on the president to abandon the meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Helsinki, Finland.
In their statements, many Democrats said they did not trust Trump, who has often expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, to confront Putin about Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
They were joined by at least one high-profile member of the opposing party: Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic and a Russia hawk, called on the president to cancel the summit if he is “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.”
But the Trump administration appears unlikely to do so. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News on Friday afternoon that the summit is “still on.”
The White House downplayed the significance of the indictment, noting there were no allegations against members of Trump’s campaign team. The president’s lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the charges were “good news for all Americans” and called on the special counsel to end his investigation and declare the president innocent.
Democrats weren’t so eager to move on, however. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was among the first to call for Trump to cancel the summit, warning that, “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”
Other Democrats soon joined Schumer. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Trump’s refusal to condemn Putin “makes it clear that meeting with Putin would be both pointless and dangerous.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., admonished Trump not to meet with Putin, saying the Russian leader “will undoubtedly take full advantage of an ill-prepared President.
He added: “If the Administration is unwilling to make the facts laid out in today’s indictment a top priority for that discussion, then that meeting shouldn’t happen.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she supported Schumer’s call to cancel the summit. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., joined the fray, too.
“Trump should cancel the meeting or make it an open meeting, confronting Putin on his aggression & taking measures to hold them accountable,” Booker said. The New Jersey Democrat, a member of the Senate’s foreign relations and judiciary committees, is considered a potential contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2020.
The admonitions to cancel the meeting came almost exclusively from Democrats, with the notable exception of McCain, who has been absent from Capitol hill as he continues to fight brain cancer.
“President Trump must be willing to confront #Putin from a position of strength & demonstrate there will be a price to pay for his ongoing aggression. If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the #HelsinkiSummit should not move forward,” McCain wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.
Some Democrats echoed McCain’s call for Trump to challenge Putin over election meddling, particularly now that he is armed with information from the latest Mueller indictment.
House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told reporters following the announcement of the new charges that he thought Trump should keep the meeting and demand that Russia extradite the 12 Russians named in the indictment.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, made a similar claim. The lawmaker said in a statement Friday that “if the president is going to persist in attending a summit with Vladimir Putin, he must” impose new sanctions on the Russians named in the indictment, demand that Putin extradite them to the United States, and return Crimea to Ukraine.