Angus King: We can't fight Russian meddling if Trump keeps denying it exists

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem senators ask drug companies to list prices in ads Overnight Health Care: Trump unveils plan to lower drug prices | Dem questions drug company's payment to Trump attorney | House panel unveils opioid proposals MORE (I-Maine) said Tuesday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo to outline post-deal strategy on Iran Trump asking aides whether he should proceed with North Korea summit: report Stopping Robert Mueller to protect us all MORE’s insistence that the Russia investigation is a “hoax” is preventing the U.S. from confronting the issue of Russia's election meddling.

"My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say, 'The whole thing is a witch hunt and it's a hoax because the president told me,'" King said, speaking at Tuesday's hearing where intelligence leaders testified about national security threats.

"We cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues to deny that it exists,” he continued.

The intelligence community determined last year that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, while multiple ongoing investigations are looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations, and tweeted last month that the "Russian Collusion Hoax is dead."

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King pleaded with intelligence officials to “persuade” Trump to separate the issue of election meddling from the question of collusion.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the hearing that Trump has not directed him to stop Russian efforts to interfere in the 2018 midterms. Intelligence officials have made it clear that they are concerned about Russian meddling in the upcoming election.

King expressed ambivalence about the U.S.’s ability to deter Moscow from interfering again.

"There are no repercussions. We have no doctrine of deterrence," he said. "How are we ever going to get them to stop doing this if all we do is patch our software and try to defend ourselves?"

The Trump administration said last month that it would not implement new sanctions on Russia over the meddling because the threat of sanctions is enough of a deterrent.