(RFE/RL) — The White House is rejecting calls from leading members of Congress to cancel a U.S.-Russian presidential summit in the wake of indictments that for the first time charge the Russian government with directly interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers on July 13 for allegedly hacking and releasing thousands of documents and e-mails that were damaging to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent came a scant three days before Trump’s scheduled summit with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Trump, who is in Scotland visiting his golf resort ahead of the summit, posted on Twitter that the alleged crimes “took place during the Obama Administration.”
“Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election,” he added.
The sweeping indictments — exposing an alleged conspiracy at high levels of the Russian government to harm Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s election prospects through embarrassing and widely publicized leaks through WikiLeaks weeks before the election — have elicited calls from many congressional Democrats as well as prominent Republicans to cancel the summit.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (Republican-Arizona), a former Republican presidential candidate, said the summit should be called off if Trump is not ready to warn Putin there is a “serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world.”
“If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” McCain said.
“In light of this stunning indictment by the Justice Department that these Russian conspirators attacked our democracy and were communicating with Americans to interfere in our election, President Trump should immediately cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” said Senator Jack Reed (Democrat-Rhode Island), ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) said Trump should refuse to meet with Putin until Russia takes steps to prove it won’t interfere in future elections.
Schumer said the indictments are “further proof of what everyone but the president seems to understand: President Putin is an adversary who interfered in our elections to help President Trump win.”
But White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders rejected those calls, saying the summit “is on” and stressing that the indictments do not charge any Trump campaign officials or other Americans with involvement in the alleged election-meddling conspiracy.
“The announcement has no impact on Monday’s meeting,” said Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected the charges in the indictments and has said it believes the intent of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in leveling the charges only days before the Helsinki summit was to “spoil the atmosphere” for talks.
Though the White House maintained that the indictments did not implicate anyone in Trump’s campaign, they do say that a Russian official who hacked Democratic National Committee documents and then released them to Wikileaks “was in regular contact with senior members” of the Trump campaign.
Longtime Trump ally and campaign adviser Roger Stone told CNN that he thought he “probably” was the person referred to in the indictment.
The indictment says the Russian operative told the Trump campaign adviser it would be a “great pleasure” to help the campaign, and later asked that adviser’s opinion about a stolen Democratic committee document that was posted online.
“Pretty standard,” the person responded, according to the indictment.
Stone told CNN he probably was the Trump operative quoted in the indictment, but said: “There is no evidence in this indictment that I or anyone involved with Donald Trump received anything from the Russians or anyone who hacked the material and passed it to WikiLeaks.”
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