Republicans in Congress are making the most of their taxpayer-funded expense accounts, with an all-GOP delegation spending their Independence Day holiday in Moscow meeting with the people who helped win the White House for their party.
Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX) joined John Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other top Kremlin leaders to “personally assess the threats Russia poses, and what actions are necessary to keep our nation secure,” as Senator Daines described their mission to CNBC.
Yes, these Republican leaders actually expect us to believe that the Russian politicians they speak with will surely explain the threats they pose in great detail and give us advice on how to fight them. That must be why they excluded any Democrats from accompanying them on their boondoggle in advance of the president’s upcoming private conclave with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Senator Shelby told the Russian Foreign Minister that their visit was arranged after:
“realizing that we have a strained relationship when we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia.”
“We have some common interests,” Shelby said. “We are competitors, but we don’t necessarily need to be adversaries.”
Ironically, as Shelby made that statement the Senate Intelligence Committee was releasing its written summary of its findings that the U.S. intelligence community was correct in concluding that Moscow not only interfered in the 2016 presidential election but actively succeeded in helping Donald Trump win.
Lucian Kim, NPR’s Moscow correspondent, asked Shelby why no Democrats were invited along on the trip with a seemingly bipartisan mission and received an evasive reply.
Reluctance of US lawmakers to talk with press in Moscow is bizarre. They practically sprinted out of Federation Council, Russian senators were much chattier.
— Lucian Kim (@Lucian_Kim) July 3, 2018
Yeah, and some days they don’t want any other Americans to know what they’re up to, as their reluctance to speak to the press about their visit demonstrates.
In one of the few comments after the meeting, Senator Kennedy tried to project an image of toughness in describing it, saying that the talks were “damn frank, very, very, very frank, no holds barred.”
“I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year,” Kennedy said. “I asked them to exit Ukraine and allow Ukraine to self-determine. I asked for the same thing in Crimea. I asked for their help in bringing peace to Syria. And I asked them not to allow Iran to gain a foothold in Syria.”
Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Russian parliamentarian, on the other hand, told The Washington Post that “he had met with many American lawmakers in years past and that this meeting ‘was one of the easiest ones in my life.’ The question of election interference, he said, was resolved quickly because ‘the question was raised in a general form.’”
The willingness of a senior Republican Congressional delegation to meet with adversaries who have yet to be held to task by their party for what many consider to be an act of cyber warfare against the U.S. only fuels the suspicions of Democrats and independent voters who believe that the entire Republican party is now in the pocket of Moscow.
When the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller are finally published perhaps the American people will be able to follow a money trail from the Kremlin to the NRA and other political organizations that then turned the dark money into political contributions for Trump and other Republican candidates.
Until then, we only have the behavior of the beneficiaries of Russian political largesse to observe and feed our speculations.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.