National Security

Pompeo says he told Russia 'interference in our domestic affairs' is 'unacceptable'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said that he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that interference in U.S. domestic affairs is "unacceptable." 

"On the question of interference in our domestic affairs, I was clear, it's unacceptable and I made our expectation of Russia clear," Pompeo said during a joint press conference with Lavrov. 

"The Trump administration will always work to protect the integrity of our elections. Period. Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response," he added.  

His remarks follow the conclusion of former special counsel Robert Mueller's report earlier this year, which found that Russia aimed to help President Trump win the 2016 presidential election. The report did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. 

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also found "extensive" Russian election interference in a report this year.

Lavrov pushed back on Pompeo's comments, saying that Washington has been overcome by "waves of suspicion" and that allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections had come out of "thin air," likening the current climate to the Red Scare of the 1950s.

Lavrov also said that he had read special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference, but said his main takeaway was that there was "no proof of collusion," in response to a reporters question.

The meeting between the two top diplomats occurred against the backdrop of House Democrats introducing articles of impeachment against Trump.

One of the articles of impeachment accuses Trump of attempting to use the government of Ukraine to "publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage."

Trump has denied wrongdoing and on Tuesday blasted the impeachment procedures as a witch hunt. 

A number of Republicans, including the president, have indicated that they believe Ukraine also interfered in the 2016 election, a claim that has not been backed by the intelligence community.

The president has sought a reset of relations with Russia and met with the foreign minister on Tuesday at the White House. The hour-long meeting was closed to the press and the White House has yet to issue a statement on the talks.

In the earlier press conference, Pompeo lamented that areas of disagreement outweighed cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.

"We should have a better relationship, the United States and Russia, than we've had in the last few years, and we've been working on that" since the two men last met in Moscow in May, Pompeo said.  

The two also butted heads over the next steps on arms control. Lavrov called for an extension on an expiring U.S. and Russian arms control agreement, called New START. 

Pompeo countered that any new agreement would have to rein in China's missile program and expand to include new technologies and weapons systems.

"We believe, not only do the conversations need to be broadened to include the Chinese communist party, but they need to be broadened as well to encompass the full range of instruments of power that can create the very strategic instability that new START, the INF, the full range agreements that were entered into decades ago presented to the world. That's our objective," he said.

The secretary also said he raised the issue of the former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia on charges of espionage, Paul Whelan.

"Bringing home our citizens abroad as soon as possible has been one of President Trump's highest priorities. We've had a success this past weekend," he said, referring to Iran releasing a U.S. graduate student it had held in prison for three years. 

Human rights groups have criticized the Russian government's treatment of Whelan, saying they have denied him translation services for communication to advocacy groups and his family and that he is in poor health.

Lavrov disputed these claims and accused the American and his lawyers of trying to create an "image of a martyr" and that Russia is in "full compliance with our law and international norms." 

-Brett Samuels contributed to this report, which was updated at 5:03 p.m.

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