WASHINGTON — Members of Congress in both parties are reacting with alarm to President Trump’s declaration that he wants the U.S. and Russia to work together on improving cybersecurity.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was not in the meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, last week, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Andrew Air Force Base on Saturday that Trump “made it very clear in addressing the issues around the election” without directly responding to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s assertion that Trump accepted the Kremlin’s denial of election hacking and other campaign interference measures.
“After a very substantive discussion on this, they reached an agreement that they would start a cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever, that they would work on cybersecurity together,” Mnuchin said.
“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” Trump tweeted today.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted, “While reality & pragmatism requires that we engage Vladimir Putin, he will never be a trusted ally or a reliable constructive partner. Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit.'”
“I think this is a very important step forward that what we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we’re focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cybersecurity,” Mnuchin replied this morning on ABC. “And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we’re doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.”
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN this morning that the idea “would be dangerously naive for this country.”
“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow,” he added.
On CBS, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) quipped, “I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort, since he’s doing the hacking.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told NBC that “it’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”
“He gave a really good speech in Poland, President Trump did. And he had what I think is a disastrous meeting with President Putin. Two hours and 15 minutes of meetings, Tillerson and Trump are ready to forgive and forget when it comes to cyber attacks on the American election of 2016,” Graham said. “Nobody is saying, Mr. President, the Russians changed the outcome. You won fair and square. But they did try to attack our election system. They were successful in many ways. And the more you do this, the more people are suspicious about you and Russia.”
“He’s got a great national security team around him. He’s doing a good job in Afghanistan, North Korea and ISIL. But when it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot and to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber attacks is to empower Putin,” he added. “And that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that “agreeing with Putin to form a so-called working group on cyber security is like police officers and bank robbers agreeing to form a working group on bank robberies.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) emphasized that “Russia did not just meddle in our election – it engaged in a sophisticated attack equivalent to a political Pearl Harbor.”
“Now President Trump wants to work with Russia on cyber defense, takes Putin’s lie that he did not interfere in our election at face value, and pours cold water on the sanctions package Congress is working to send him. President Trump’s words and potential actions place our country and all that we cherish in jeopardy, and there is no logical reason he would reward or appease Mr. Putin,” Cardin said, adding that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) should take up the Russia sanctions bill that the Senate passed 98-2, which includes the caveat that Congress would have to approve any Russia sanctions rollback by Trump. “Any further political games endanger our country.”
At a media availability in Kiev today with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Secretary of State Rex Tilleson, who was the only other U.S. official in the Putin meeting, told reporters that what the U.S. and Russia agreed to “on the cyber front is to explore a framework under which we might begin to have agreement of how to deal with these very complex issues of cyber threats, cyber security, cyber intrusions.”
“And this is a challenge, obviously, for us globally, so Russia is not the only nation that we’re going to have to begin to develop some way of how we as an international community are going to deal with what has emerged as an ever more complex issue,” Tillerson said. “And I think the election interference really shows how complicated the use of these types of tools are becoming. We have to find a way to begin to address that, and it’s not going to be only about Russia. It’s going to be about an international engagement as well.”
UPDATE: Trump tweeted on Sunday night, “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”