House Speaker Open to Tougher Russia Sanctions Following Helsinki Flap

Paul Ryan says in news conference there is no doubt that Vladimir Putin's government meddled in U.S. election in 2016

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday contradicted President Donald Trump’s contention that it is unclear whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Speaking at a purposely called Capitol Hill news conference, Ryan avoided the kind of direct criticism of Trump that some other Republicans have leveled, but he added that he is open to taking further steps to confront Russia.

“They did interfere in our elections,” he said. “It’s really clear. There should be no doubt about that. It’s also clear that it didn’t have a material effect on our elections. As a result of that, we passed tough sanctions. We can hold them accountable.”

Trump has been under fire, from friends and foes alike, since his joint news conference Monday in Finland with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said both Russia and the United States share blame for deteriorating relations. He said he could not determine the accuracy of the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian agents hacked the computer system of the Democratic National Committee.

Asked if he agrees with former CIA Director John Brennan’s characterization of Trump’s remarks as “treasonous,” Ryan responded with a simple “I do not.” Ryan said it is “perfectly reasonable” to pursue better relations with Russia.

“But Russia is a menacing government that does not share our values, and I think that should be made very, very clear,” he said.

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Ryan said he is happy to consider additional sanctions if they are appropriate. And he said America should support other countries that have faced similar interference by Russia.

“Russia is trying to undermine democracy itself to delegitimize democracy so, for some reason, they can look good by comparison … What we intend to do is to make sure that they don’t get away with it again and also to help our allies,” he said.

Related: The Odd Contradiction Between Trump’s Words and Actions

Ryan reiterated his view that independent counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to complete his probe into Russian election meddling. But he brushed aide suggestions that it is inappropriate for congressional leaders to seek records from the Department of Justice about the origins of the counterintelligence investigation that preceded Mueller’s appointment.

Ryan said Congress has legitimate oversight responsibilities.

“Unfortunately, I had to get involved,” he said. “It shouldn’t have to take a speaker to get involved in that. But they are now coming into compliance.”

(photo credit, article image: Paul Ryan, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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