U.S. President Donald Trump late on July 9 stepped back from his proposal to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish a cybersecurity unit to prevent hacking and election meddling after he received blistering criticism from his own party.
Trump wrote on Twitter that “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!”
This was a reversal from remarks made by Trump earlier in the day and apparently referred to the cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia for the southwest section of Syria.
The U.S. president, who met with Putin on July 7 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, said in a tweet early on July 9 that he discussed with Putin forming a cybersecurity unit to guard against election hacking.
"Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe," Trump wrote.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia, most likely under Putin’s orders, meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to bolster Trump’s chances against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Putin has denied the allegations.
Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina), often a critic of the president, had said after the original proposal that a plan to work with Russia on cybersecurity is "not the dumbest idea I have ever heard -- but it's pretty close."
Graham, who briefly ran in the Republican primary campaign for the presidency in 2016, told NBC TV's Meet the Press that Trump's apparent willingness to "forgive and forget" made the senator only more determined to pass legislation imposing further sanctions on Russia.
Graham added that he felt Trump was doing a good job on Afghanistan, North Korea, and the fight against terrorism.
But, he added, “When it comes to Russia, he's got a blind spot, and to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin, and that's exactly what he's doing."
Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida), who also ran for his party’s presidential nomination, on Twitter wrote: "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 (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad on a 'Chemical Weapons Unit,'" he added.
John McCain (Republican-Arizona), also a frequent critic of Trump and a former U.S. presidential candidate, questioned Trump's reluctance to penalize Russia.
"There has been no penalty," McCain told CBS TV's Face the Nation in regard to Russia’s meddling in the election process. "Vladimir Putin...got away with literally trying to change the outcome...of our election."
With reporting by Reuters and AFP