By Tamar Hallerman
WASHINGTON — Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue on Tuesday downplayed President Donald Trump’s handling of a recent meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, praising his ally a day after he was hounded for expressing doubt about Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 elections.
Perdue said Trump’s comments at a Helsinki news conference, which appeared to counter the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion about Russian intervention in the presidential election, was “minor news relative to the bigger picture, and that is that we’re reengaging with someone in the world that can be very dangerous.”
The first-term Republican senator, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the president has discussed taking a “tough stance with Russia” and that he should be lauded for meeting with Putin following eight years of the country being “disengaged” under President Barack Obama.
“Between us we have 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons,” Perdue told reporters, referring to the U.S. and Russia. “So we have to engage them.”
Perdue was one of a few GOP lawmakers to defend the president on Tuesday as some allies called on the Trump to change his posture and others sought to sidestep the controversy entirely.
He also followed the lead of several Georgia GOP officials who said they believed Moscow did interfere in the 2016 elections but refrained from criticizing Trump or his comments directly.
“Certainly there’s evidence that Russia tried to be involved in our elections,” Perdue said. “We know that they’ve done that in Eastern Europe, so I think we have to take a tough stance with Russia and President Trump has always said that in private. So I think we’re continuing to move forward with that.”
CNN reporter Manu Raju on Monday evening tweeted that Perdue told him
that Trump has “got information I don’t have” on the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling and that “I’m not going to second guess a comment like that.”
“What we have to do right now is we have to hold them accountable, and that’s what he’s trying to do,” Perdue said about Russia and Trump, according to Raju.
Trump eventually backtracked from his initial comments, telling reporters on Tuesday afternoon that “I accept our intelligence community conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”
“We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” he said.
Trump also said that getting along with Russia is a “positive thing.” He said he entered his meeting with Putin with the “firm conviction that diplomacy and engagement is better than hostility and conflict.”