Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit

Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit
© Getty Images

Lawmakers and administration officials on Sunday eagerly — and in some cases anxiously — anticipated President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the announcement of charges against Russian intelligence officials added a new wrinkle to the looming tete-a-tete.

Trump and Putin are slated to meet Monday in Helsinki. It will mark the first one-on-one meeting between the two men since Trump took office, save for one side session during last year’s Group of 20 summit. The president is going into the meeting with self-described “low expectations.”

“I don't expect anything. I frankly don't expect — I go in with very low expectations,” Trump told CBS News in an interview early Sunday. “I think that getting along with Russia is a good thing. But it's possible we won't.”



While Trump has drawn criticism for his reluctance to speak out against Putin and Russia, the stakes were raised on Friday when the Justice Department announced charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers for conspiring to hack Democratic servers during the 2016 election. 

Trump declined to condemn Putin following special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's indictment, instead laying blame at the feet of the Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee for allowing the hack to happen.

On Sunday, Democrats and Republicans alike expressed hope that Trump might change his tune and confront Putin over election meddling, and the latest round of indictments in particular. However, lawmakers voiced varying degrees of confidence that the president would follow through in the leaders' sit-down.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (Texas), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that he supports the meeting because it’s “counterproductive” for world leaders to ignore each other. He noted that the U.S. and Russia have common interests in rooting out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

“On the other hand, I think the president should be clear-eyed about who he's dealing with,” Cornyn said. “Putin is an autocrat. He's a thug. He does not respect the rule of law, obviously doesn't respect our democracy and wants to undermine it at every — every chance he gets.”

Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant Comey rejects request for closed-door interview with House Republicans MORE (R-S.C.) pointed to the latest round of indictments as evidence Russia attacked the U.S. in the 2016 presidential election. He urged Trump to press Putin to extradite the charged Russian agents, something Trump said he “hadn’t thought about.”

“Your first request of Vladimir Putin needs to be: tell us which airport we can pick up the 25 Russians that tried to interfere with the fundamentals of our democracy,” Gowdy said on CBS.

“If you really claim you had nothing to do with it then you should be as shocked as we were that your military was being used to impact our election,” he continued. “Tell us where you're going to extradite those folks because an American grand jury indicted them for undermining our democracy.” 

Democrats, however, proved more pessimistic that Trump will enter his talks with Putin with the approach required to get results.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism Is there a difference between good and bad online election targeting? Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel MORE (D-Va.) voiced concerns over reports that the two leaders will meet with only interpreters present before aides join them later in the talks.

"Vladimir Putin is a trained KGB agent, he may come in with maps of Syria, maps of Ukraine. And frankly, I think he'll take advantage of this president whom we know doesn't do much prep work before these meetings," Warner said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We need other individuals from his administration in the room so we know at least someone will press the Russians on making sure they don't interfere in future U.S. elections," he added.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Dems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Schiff: There is legal precedent for impeaching sitting officials over prior criminal conduct MORE (D-Calif.) a vocal critic of Trump's, said on CNN that he's doubtful Trump will have a successful meeting with Putin. Schiff, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called Trump's repeated claims that the Mueller probe is a "witch hunt" a "gift" for Putin.

While the president has said in recent days that he intends to broach the subject of election meddling, Schiff said that alone won't accomplish anything.

"There’s no reason to expect this won’t be, frankly, a disastrous approach," Schiff said. "After all, he’s sitting down with a man who just ordered intervention into our election, and rewarding him for doing so."

Trump administration officials brushed off criticisms that Trump is unprepared or unwilling to criticize Putin.

National security adviser John Bolton said on ABC's "This Week" that one purpose of the meeting is for the president to talk to Putin about election meddling. He went on to suggest that the latest indictments will actually provide Trump with leverage over Putin in those discussions.

"I would say, in fact, it strengthens his hand," Bolton said. "It shows that the justice system, the Department of Justice, are aware of these Russian efforts in election meddling, and I think the president can put this on the table and say, this is a serious matter that we need to talk about."

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said on "Fox News Sunday" that the meeting will serve to put Russia on notice not to interfere in future elections. More broadly, he said, the meeting is intended to de-escalate tensions between Russia and the U.S.

"For the president, the challenges are certainly there, but I think he is genuinely looking forward to sitting across the table and trying to reduce the tension in a relationship where our collective blood pressure is off-the-charts high. And it's not good for the United States and is not good for the world."