GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia

GOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) blocked a resolution on Thursday that would have lent the Senate's support to the intelligence community's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, which was offered up in the wake of President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE’s Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeVoters will punish Congress for ignoring duty on war and peace GOP Senate candidate truncates Trump tweet in campaign mailer GOP senator reviving effort to rein in Trump on tariffs MORE (R-Ariz.) and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsGraham: Flynn should lose security clearance On The Money: Senators propose 'crushing' Russia sanctions | Trump calls for food stamp work requirements in farm bill | China tells US to 'chill' on trade | Apple hits trillion in value Let’s honor public service MORE (D-Del.) tried to pass their resolution by unanimous consent, which requires the sign off of every senator. 

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But Cornyn objected, saying senators should focus on passing new sanctions legislation and warning that they should work through the committee process

“I think we should consider sanctions, not sort of sense of the Senate resolutions that have no sting or no impact, certainly no deterrent effect on what we all want to discourage, which is Russian involvement in our 2018 elections," Cornyn said from the Senate floor.

He added that committees "ought to be permitted to call the witnesses and ask the hard questions and develop the record before we go on record as to a resolution like this." 

The measure, introduced on Wednesday, would support the intelligence community's assessment of Russian election interference days after Trump voiced skepticism about Moscow's election interference.

Flake blasted Trump's rhetoric during the summit in Helsinki, Finland, calling it an "Orwellian moment." 

"To reject these findings — and to reject the excruciatingly specific indictment against 12 named Russian operatives in deference to the word of a KGB apparatchik — is an act of will on the part of the president," Flake said. 

He added that that the "choice now leaves us contemplating a dark mystery: Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?" 

"If ever there was a moment to think not of your party but of your country, this is it," Flake continued.

The resolution also commends the Justice Department for investigating Russia's election interference.

Trump has dismissed special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's probe, which is also digging into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow, as a "witch hunt." 

The resolution agrees with the intelligence community's findings that the Kremlin sought to influence the 2016 presidential election and that Russia should be held accountable; calls on the administration to fully implement the sanctions against Russia that Congress passed last year; and urges congressional oversight "including prompt hearings and the release of relevant note and information" so Congress can understand the Helsinki summit.

In addition to the Flake-Coons resolution, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy Rand Paul takes victory lap after Brennan's security clearance revoked Trump revokes Brennan's security clearance MORE (R-Ky.) blocked a separate resolution from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersPollster: Despite flashy headline, Dems haven't become more supportive of socialism Pollster: Dem party 'rift' won't carry on to midterms Pelosi sees defections from an unusual quarter — the left MORE (I-Vt.) that also would have demanded Trump sit down with Mueller as part of his probe. 

Trump sparked widespread backlash when he refused to condemn Russia's election meddling during the joint press conference with Putin on Monday. He tried to walk back his comments on Tuesday, saying he accepted the intelligence community's findings, but added that it could be "other people" as well. 

Flake and Coons pledged after Cornyn blocked their resolution that they would try again to pass it in the future. 

"We'll bring it back," Flake said. "I believe that this should pass, and I believe it ultimately will pass." 

—Updated at 5:17 p.m.