A day after President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, most of West Virginia’s congressional delegation has weighed in on what many critics saw as a lost opportunity to condemn the foreign leader for his country’s role in interfering with the United States' 2016 election.
President Trump drew criticism from many senators and congressional representatives of both parties following remarks at a joint press conference Monday, July 16 with Putin. When asked who was to blame for the interference, Trump said he holds “both countries responsible.”
The U.S. President also said that Putin denied any involvement in the operations of the election interference.
Trump and Putin’s meeting in Helsinki came just days after an indictment from U.S. Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller charges 12 Russian agents of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
In a written statement issued Tuesday, Sen. Joe Manchin -- a Democrat -- acknowledged Russian meddling in the election and argued it is not a partisan matter up for debate.
“Let me be perfectly clear, the Russian government is not our friend. They interfered in our 2016 election and their cyberattacks continue to this day. The brave men and women in our intelligence community have concluded this through a fact-based investigation," Manchin said. "As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I have seen the clear evidence of what the Russians have done and continue to do to meddle in our elections. This is an issue that both Democrats and Republicans are united on.”
Manchin also quoted a statement from Republican Sen. John McCain, who issued a scathing criticism of President Trump on Monday. However, Manchin also pointed to comments from Republican sens. Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee.
Graham said “meddling & collusion are NOT the same thing,” while Corker said Russia “definitely interfered in our election. That’s not debatable.”
“These are not political, partisan words – these are words of concerned elected officials united in the defense of our country, our intelligence community, and in agreement with the facts. It’s incumbent on any President to stand up to our adversaries and confront them when they attack our country,” Manchin said.
“We fought and won the Cold War by never giving ground to the Soviet Union, and we need the same strength today. I stand by the analysis of our country’s intelligence community, my Republican and Democratic colleagues and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. This is not political, it’s simply patriotic,” he added.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito noted support of funding for election security, which was passed as part of the March 2018 omnibus spending bill. Capito chairs the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, which secured $380 million for that project -- of which West Virginia was granted $3.6 million from the appropriation to improve election security.
“I trust our intelligence community in their assessment of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election,” Senator Capito said. “Preserving the integrity of our electoral system is critical to our democracy. That is why I led efforts as chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee to include funds to improve U.S. election security in the government funding legislation that became law in March. Russia is an adversary of the United States, and we must continue efforts to hold them accountable.”
Since 2016, the West Virginia Secretary of State's office has deployed National Guard assets to monitor computer systems in hopes to prevent election hacking.
Federal officials have confirmed that Russian-backed hackers probed election-related systems in at least 21 states in the 2016 election, although West Virginia was not one of them.
Rep. David McKinley, a Republican who represents West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, pointed to actions taken by the Trump Administration in which the U.S. has attempted to combat Russian interference.
“The House Intelligence Committee and several American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, just as they have done in many other countries. I disagree with the President’s statement,” McKinley said. “However, we should also weigh these poorly chosen words at a press conference against actions the Administration has taken against Russia, including imposing tough sanctions, expelling diplomats, and providing weapons to Ukraine.”
One such measure was the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, for which McKinley -- and the rest of the state's delegation -- voted in favor.
Last year, Trump signed CAATSA but called the measure “seriously flawed” because it limited his ability to implement sanctions without congressional approval. Trump also failed to hit a congressionally mandated deadline in January to act on the bill -- which would have allowed him to impose new sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.
Reps. Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins -- of the state’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, respectively -- did not return requests for comment.
None of the state’s five-member delegation acknowledged requests for interviews on the matter.