Rubio also promoted legislation he had proposed with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen called the deter Act, which, if passed, would allow the director of national intelligence to impose preexisting sanctions on a foreign power if the intelligence community determined that that country interfered in a U.S. election. Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Trump’s comments “outrageous” and said that in the coming days, members of Congress will “need to stand up and say which side we’re on.”
Still, the bipartisan condemnations may be of limited comfort to America’s allies in the post-Soviet sphere. “I think the U.S. Senate and government has spoken quite clearly about what the message should be,” said Jan Lipavsky, a member of parliament in the Czech Republic. “But it’s a message to us that we maybe need to put more into the alliance and stand more on our own feet … This is not the way the Russians should be dealt with.”
Ojars Kalnins, a member of parliament in Latvia, reiterated that the military threat posed by Russia “became very real after 2014,” when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. “But there has also always been a political threat, an attempt to undermine our democratic system from within.” Hanna Hopko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, appeared rattled by the president’s remarks, but did not call him out by name. “Everybody expected that there would be painful compromises,” she said, noting that Ukraine had watched the Trump–Putin press conference intently. “But it is important to see this very firm position from the U.S.: Crimea belongs to Ukraine.” Trump has not ruled out recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea as legitimate.
Damian Collins, a Conservative member of parliament in the U.K. who is leading a parliamentary inquiry into Russia’s use of social media and tech companies to influence the Brexit vote, was blunt: “To deny the existence of evidence linking Russia to disinformation and interference is to say to countries that are the victim of this that they are on their own.” Collins added that the world had seen “odd messages” from Trump over the past week. “On the one hand, Trump has said, ‘Spend more on security,’ and ‘The influence of Russia on your country is too great.’” (Trump slammed Germany during last week’s NATO summit in Brussels, accusing them of relying too much on Russia for oil and gas.) “On the other hand, he says Russia is not interfering,” Collins continued. “So he’s saying, essentially, ‘If you defend yourself against Russia, you do it without my support.’”
One of the more surreal moments of Trump’s joint press conference with Putin came when the Russian president acknowledged, for the first time, that he had wanted Trump to win. “Yes, I did. Yes, I did,” Putin said. “Because he talked about bringing the U.S.–Russia relationship back to normal.”
That comment, Rubio said, was on its own an attempt to sow chaos in the U.S. Putin “clearly understood how saying ‘I wanted Trump to win’ would play out in American politics,” the Florida senator said. “He knows how to touch certain pressure points. He said that deliberately to stoke those fires.”