Correction: An earlier version of this report inadvertently omitted the words “and Russian influence” from President Trump’s quote in the fifth paragraph. This updated version has been corrected.
President Trump, defending Mitch McConnell after a Washington Post opinion piece argued the Senate majority leader was helping Russia by blocking election security legislation, on Tuesday claimed it was The Post that was a “Russian asset.”
Trump was asked by reporters outside the White House to respond to a Post opinion piece published Friday under the headline “Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset.”
“The Washington Post called Mitch McConnell what?” Trump asked. “I think The Washington Post is a Russian asset by comparison.”
The article, written by Post columnist Dana Milbank, criticized McConnell (R-Ky.) for blocking legislation to secure U.S. election systems against attacks by Russia and attempted influence by Russian or other foreign agents. Milbank wrote that by refusing to defend the United States against future attacks, McConnell was “doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”
McConnell “is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump, and I know nothing,” Trump said Tuesday. “If they actually said that, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and they ought to apologize.”
A Post spokeswoman declined to comment.
McConnell went on the Senate floor Monday to fire back at his critics, defending his decision to block an election security bill and calling the assertion that he was helping Putin “modern-day McCarthyism.”
“I was called unpatriotic, un-American and essentially treasonous by a couple of left-wing pundits on the basis of boldfaced lies,” McConnell said Monday. “I was accused of ‘aiding and abetting’ the very man I’ve singled out as our adversary and opposed for nearly 20 years: Vladimir Putin.”
Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial-page editor, defended Milbank’s column and criticized the GOP leader for invoking McCarthyism.
“Dana Milbank’s column was a legitimate exercise in commentary, making the argument that Sen. McConnell’s blocking of elections-security legislation will harm the United States and work to Russia’s advantage,” Hiatt said in a statement. “Of course it’s equally legitimate for Mr. McConnell to express a contrary view, but the Milbank argument has nothing to do with McCarthyism.”
Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified to Congress last week about his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry. Days later, a Senate committee released a bipartisan report on Russian efforts to influence U.S. politics. Mueller and the senators warned that Russia will try again in 2020 to undermine the presidential election.
After Mueller’s testimony, Democrats made several efforts in the Senate to secure unanimous support to consider bipartisan legislation on election security. McConnell and other Republicans blocked the effort.
McConnell was asked Tuesday about his refusal to bring up legislation requiring campaigns to disclose any offers of foreign assistance. He defended his actions and argued that the Trump administration deserves credit for 2018 elections that were apparently devoid of major security breaches.
“There’s total agreement that the Russians were trying to impact the 2016 election,” McConnell told reporters. “There’s also almost total agreement that in 2018 they failed totally because of the great job done by the administration.”
Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted his support for voter-identification laws to “insure the safety and sanctity of our voting system.” He also said paper ballots should be used as backup, which was a major component of the election security bill that McConnell blocked in the Senate.
Trump, who has long dismissed U.S. intelligence reports that Russia interfered in 2016, said he had not seen the Milbank column. But he used the question to level more attacks at The Post, calling the paper “fake news” and “a paper for the benefit of Amazon.” Trump often conflates The Post with Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Post.