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Last week's Helsinki summit, or its aftermath, provided some useful reflection from this state's congressional delegation.

Each member reacted -- some more forcefully than others -- to President Donald Trump's siding with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over U.S. intelligence reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

That doesn't mean these U.S. senators and representatives directly criticized President Trump. All six in the Arkansas delegation are Republicans, after all.

Some didn't even mention Trump, reacting instead to Putin or declaring their own support for the U.S. intelligence professionals their president had questioned.

What the congressional delegation did say, however, runs counter to the position Trump took as he buddied up to Putin on that world stage.

That's what is worth remembering about the Arkansas congressmen's first-blush reactions, which were captured in interviews, tweets and written statements in the aftermath of Helsinki.

They, like so many others in the Congress, including some Republicans, felt compelled to refute Trump's message. Some at least said what Trump wouldn't, confronting the Russians' role in 2016 and warning against a recurrence this year.

Remember that every one of our national intelligence agencies agrees that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. Recent indictments of Russians in the ongoing federal probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller even spell out what the Russians did to influence the vote.

Yet, standing there in Helsinki side by side with Putin, President Trump said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered. Trump made a lame attempt the next day to explain away his embrace of Putin, claiming to have misspoken.

His rewrite offered that infamous double negative: "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't (be Russia)." He originally said, "I don't see any reason why it would." Believe him or not.

More significant was a concession he certainly did not make in the news conference with Putin.

"I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said, although he qualified even that. "It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all." Again, believe him or not.

But do keep in mind how those representing Arkansas in the Congress reacted.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman: "Our nation's intelligence community, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee, is confident that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections," Boozman tweeted. "I agree w/ their assessment & believe our relationship w/ Russia must consistently be viewed through this lens. Russia is not our friend."

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton: "Vladimir Putin is a committed adversary of the United States. In the last few years alone, Russia meddled in our presidential campaign, violated arms-control treaties with the United States, invaded Ukraine, assassinated political opponents in the United Kingdom, made common cause with Iran in propping up Bashar al-Assad's outlaw regime in Syria, and cheated not only in the Olympics, but even in the Paralympics. These are not the actions of a friend, an ally, or merely a nation with aligned interests," Cotton said in a written statement.

Rep. Rick Crawford, District 1: "I think the findings in the House Intelligence Committee have been clear and forthright and they demonstrate, unequivocally, that the Russians employed active measures in an effort to influence our election here," Crawford, who serves on that committee, said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that they were successful in altering the outcome; it just means we know they were engaged."

Rep. French Hill, District 2: "For decades Russia has engaged in propaganda and political shenanigans in Western democracies, and based on publicly available intelligence and information, their efforts in the U.S. elections in 2016 were no different," Hill said in a written statement. "President Trump missed an opportunity today in his meeting and press conference with Russian President Putin to make clear that the United States does not believe Russian denials about meddling in our 2016 elections and that America will not stand for interference of this kind."

Rep. Steve Womack, District 3: "I'm disappointed the President downplayed the very real threat Russia poses to our country and our values. Make no mistake, Russia is dangerous," Womack tweeted. "I thank the brave individuals in our intelligence community who work daily to keep America safe."

Rep. Bruce Westerman, District 4: "I don't think Putin's our friend. He's done things that I certainly don't approve of and I haven't seen anything change about him that would make me want to be too friendly towards him," said Westerman.

The congressmen may have amplified their comments since offering these initial reactions and they'll certainly get more chances, especially the four U.S. House members seeking re-election in November. (Neither Boozman nor Cotton is up for election this year; Cotton will be in 2020.)

More and more, the upcoming mid-term elections are predicted to be a referendum on Trump. Exactly what that means in Arkansas, where Trump won easily two years ago, remains to be seen.

Commentary on 07/25/2018

Print Headline: No friends of Putin

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