House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) on Wednesday added his voice to the faction of Republican lawmakers who rallied to vindicate the U.S. intelligence community after President Donald Trump embraced Russian President Vladimir Putin over the counsel of his own spy agencies.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, McCaul said he's been "astounded" by the inability of both the Obama and Trump administrations to condemn Russian aggression against the United States.
Trump faced heavy criticism, including from GOP allies, following Monday's summit in Helsinki, Finland, where members of Congress complained the president missed an opportunity to unequivocally condemn Putin for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
"I find it completely unacceptable," McCaul said. "Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, this is completely unacceptable and I don't understand the reluctance when he almost sided with Putin over our intelligence community assessment. That, I think, is demoralizing to our intelligence community."
Trump on Tuesday walked back his remarks in a White House press conference, claiming he had misspoken a day earlier and accepts the assessment by U.S. spy agencies that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election process.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who was handpicked by Trump to lead the agency, had previously challenged the president's skepticism of Moscow's interference, insisting the intelligence community provides "fact-based" analysis to U.S. officials.
McCaul is the latest among Republican lawmakers who have condemned the president's performance alongside Putin. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) called it "disgraceful," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said it signaled "weakness," and Rep. Will Hurd (R., Texas), a former undercover CIA officer, accused Trump of "getting played."
"Putin is not our friend," McCaul said. "He is an adversary, he is an enemy of the United States, and I think what was disturbing about that press conference with Putin is it almost appeared like we're friends with Russia. We're not."
McCaul said he "fully" believes Russia will target the United States again during the midterm elections in November, citing "good intelligence" that has pointed to the Russians pegging specific members of Congress.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week to discuss Trump's meetings with Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.