Republican Sen. John McCain and a slew of his Democratic colleagues are calling on President Trump to pull out of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki scheduled for Monday after new indictments were handed up against Russian intelligence officers for meddling in the 2016 US election.
Eight top Senate Democrats encouraged the president to pull out of the summit if he is not prepared to "demand that Russian intelligence officials indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice be handed over to stand trial."
The demand was made in a letter sent Saturday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, as well as Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
It comes a day after special counsel Robert Mueller successfully sought an indictment against 12 Russian state military hackers, accusing them of conspiring to hack into computer networks, steal documents, and orchestrate their release with the goal of interfering with the 2016 presidential election.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told BuzzFeed News in an email Saturday afternoon that the White House is "moving forward with the meeting in Finland."
In their letter, the Democratic lawmakers also expressed concern that Trump and Putin, a former KGB agent, would meet without other witnesses in the room.
“We write to urge that you include senior members of your team and not meet one-on-one with Mr. Putin, as reportedly planned," eight top Senate Democrats wrote in a letter Saturday. "Mr. Putin is a trained KGB intelligence veteran who will come to this meeting well-prepared. As the Kremlin said last week, a one-on-one meeting with you ‘absolutely suits’ him. There must be other Americans in the room."
Combat veteran and Democratic senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois separately issued a statement calling for the president to immediately cancel the summit "until Russia demonstrates its willingness to come back into the community of nations that respect the rule of law, legal norms and democratic institutions."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, tweeted that Trump must cancel the "ridiculous" summit because the "DOJ's criminal charges provide hard evidence that Russian intel agents attacked America to boost their favorite candidates, undermine others, and influence our elections."
Eighteen Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also signed a letter Friday expressing their lack of confidence in Trump as a negotiator.
“Unfortunately, due to your constant expressions of sympathy for Vladimir Putin, your conflicts of interest, and your attacks on our closest allies, we do not have confidence that you can faithfully negotiate with the Russian leader, and we urge you to cancel the meeting," they wrote.
It wasn't just Democrats concerned about the summit, however; Republican Sen. John McCain also cautioned against the meeting in a set of statements issued on Friday.
"If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the #HelsinkiSummit should not move forward," he tweeted.
Former Republican congress member for Illinois and current conservative radio host Joe Walsh tweeted that Trump must "condemn Putin in the strongest language possible," in addition to canceling, so Americans know where his loyalties lie.
Friday's new indictments follow previous indictments of 13 Russians associated with the St. Petersburg ‘troll factory' as part of Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.
The planned summit in Helsinki is part of a White House trip to Europe that included a visit by Trump to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels, during which the president made a veiled threat to pull out of the historic alliance, a geopolitical move that lawmakers say Putin would welcome.
"Vladimir Putin wants to see the West divided and weakened. You must not play into his aims," the Democratic senators wrote in their letter.
In a press conference in England alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, Trump said he would "absolutely" bring up the issue of Russian meddling.
"I don't think you'll have any, ‘Gee, I did it, I did it, you got me.' There won't be a Perry Mason here, I don't think," he said, referring to the old legal TV drama. "But you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely, firmly ask the question, and hopefully we'll have a very good relationship with Russia."
After their first meeting last year, Trump said he thinks Putin genuinely believes Russia didn't interfere in the US elections.
"Every time he sees me he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump said.
The president later clarified, however, that he sided with US intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Russia's campaign to meddle in the 2016 election, denigrate Hillary Clinton, and undermine US democracy was personally orchestrated by Putin.