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‘That can’t be the standard’: Durbin blasts Trump’s comments downplaying Russian poisonings, assassinations

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) at a September hearing on Capitol Hill. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin on Monday criticized President Trump for appearing to downplay human rights abuses that take place outside the United States, arguing that such offenses must be taken seriously wherever they occur.

The Illinois Democrat’s remarks came one day after the airing of a “60 Minutes” interview in which Trump said that he believes Russian President Vladi­mir Putin has “probably” been involved in assassinations and poisonings but that those incidents were “not in our country.”

“That can’t be the standard,” Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in an interview on CNN. “For goodness’ sake, when the Russians are killing off former spies in England, when we have this apparent complicity of the Saudis in the killing of one of their critics, we’ve got to take this seriously wherever it happens.”

“If these are countries that say they are allied with us in values, we have to make it clear they are not,” he added.

Among the many Putin critics to have allegedly been poisoned are Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter, who were the targets of an alleged nerve-agent attack in Britain by Russian operatives. Russia denies any involvement in the attack. Other Putin critics have died under mysterious circumstances.

A Putin spokesman on Monday played down Trump’s comments and suggested that the president may have misspoken.

Durbin’s mention of the Saudis was a reference to the case of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement, despite mounting evidence that the Saudi regime was implicated in the case.

Trump said Monday morning that he is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to discuss Khashoggi’s disappearance. Trump also mused that “maybe these could have been rogue killers” and said that the Saudi king had firmly denied any involvement.