House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday accused President Trump of committing treason during the president’s meeting a day earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“I agree with John Brennan, who said that it was nothing short of treasonous,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol, referring to the former CIA director.
“It is the duty of every patriot who loves their country to stand up and speak out against this dangerous and dishonest behavior,” he added. “The emperor has no clothes, no ethics, no integrity, no common sense.”
With his comments, Hoyer became the highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker to call Trump’s behavior “treasonous.” But Hoyer also stopped short of urging impeachment hearings against the president, as some liberal members of the Democratic caucus have been urging for months.
Hoyer argued that Democrats should focus first on winning back the House in November for the sake of middle-class economic security. The question of impeachment, he said, can wait.
“At this point in time it would be a distraction. There will be time for that,” Hoyer said. “We need to get through this election; we need to deal with the economic issues; we need to deal with the health-care issues of the American people.”
Trump sparked a firestorm in Washington following Monday’s Helsinki summit, when he blamed the United States for straining U.S.-Russia relations and seemed to accept Putin’s denial that Moscow attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election — a statement in direct defiance to the assessment from Trump’s own intelligence agencies.
Democrats have pounced, accusing the president of engaging in “a dangerous, disgraceful and damaging show of his Blame America First policy,” in the words of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Outside the question of election interference, Democrats have questioned why the president declined to hit Putin on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its ongoing effort to destabilize Ukraine, Putin’s continued support for Bashar Assad in Syria and the United Kingdom’s claims that Moscow is behind the recent nerve-agent attacks on a former Russian spy living in England.
Brennan, who headed the CIA under former President Obama, delivered some of the harshest criticisms, saying Trump’s performance “rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’ the constitutional threshold for impeachment.
“It was nothing short of treasonous,” Brennan tweeted. “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Trump on Tuesday fired back, telling Fox News that Brennan is “a very bad guy.”
“A lot of things happened under his watch. I think he’s a very bad person,” Trump said in an interview with Tucker Carlson.
He did not provide specifics.
Hoyer characterized the summit as “one of the saddest days” for America and its foreign policy goals.
“It was a Neville Chamberlain-like example of self-delusion in the face of an adversary who respects neither truth nor law,” Hoyer said, referring to the former British prime minister infamous for his appeasement of Nazi Germany at the outset of World War II.
Pressed on the impeachment question, Hoyer reiterated that it would distract from the more urgent goal of winning back the House.
“We need to focus on taking back the House to save our country, its values, its soul, its character,” he said, “to make sure that at least one house … takes seriously the responsibility to exercise oversight over the conduct of this administration.”
In the meantime, Hoyer and the Democrats want GOP leaders to take new steps to push back against Trump post-Helsinki. Hoyer said Congress should pass resolutions clarifying U.S. support for NATO, the European Union and the country’s “opposition to Russia” and its efforts to meddle in elections abroad. Additionally, the Democrats want Republicans to consider legislation to prevent Trump from interfering with the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling, a probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“I would suggest there is a lot of evidence of collusion of members of the Trump campaign meeting with … Russians,” Hoyer said. “But having said that, we ought to make sure the special prosecutor can finish his job.”
Democrats are also pressing for a House vote on a resolution affirming Congress’s support for Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Monday statement condemning Trump’s behavior in Helsinki.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” Ryan said following the summit.
“I agree with Paul Ryan’s statement,” Hoyer said Tuesday.