"Disgraceful." "Shameful." "Bizarre."
Those assessments of President Donald Trump's post-summit news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin didn't come from Democrats, but from Republican Sens. John McCain, Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse, respectively.
The rebuke — and the resolve to carry out special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — should be bipartisan. Or better yet, amplified by nonpartisan voices such as former CIA Director John Brennan, who tweeted that "Not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???"
Several GOP patriots did indeed echo McCain, Flake and Sasse. That was a welcome break from their previous complicity regarding Trump's disgraceful denigration of intelligence officers serving our country. Others should join them with an unqualified denouncement of Trump's acceptance of Putin's election-meddling denials, summed up perfectly in a BBC online headline: "Trump sides with Russia against FBI at Helsinki summit."
On Monday, Trump undermined U.S. intelligence agencies — again — by appearing to reject their consensus findings on Russia's role in the 2016 elections, a cyberattack that just last Friday led to the indictments of a dozen Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. On Tuesday, responding to the firestorm, Trump walked back his comments, saying "I accept" the U.S. intelligence assessment. But the damage was done.
Trump's initial doubt was not shared by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats — a Republican appointed by Trump — who issued a statement that read: "We've been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of national security."
Last week, Coats issued a separate warning on cyberattacks, comparing the signals to early warnings that were ignored before 9/11. "The warning lights are blinking red again," Coats said, adding that "today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack."
Red lights signaling diplomatic blunders were blinking during much of Trump's disastrous European trip, during which he eroded NATO unity, spoiled the "special relationship" with the United Kingdom by insulting British Prime Minister Theresa May while praising her Tory rival Boris Johnson, and named the European Union — an allied international institution formed after two devastating world wars — among America's top foes.
Before the summit, Trump tweeted that Mueller's investigation was "a disaster for our country." He's right, in a sense, but not because it's a "witch hunt." The U.S. was attacked by a hostile nation. If the Trump campaign did not collude in those efforts, the president should welcome a full accounting from Mueller.
The Helsinki sellout should finally end congressional calls to end the probe early, and instead should lead Republicans running for Congress to increasingly stand for something more profound than re-election and put America first.