Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said on Tuesday that Russian officials refused to acknowledge interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign during his recent trip to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, which was encouraged by President Donald Trump.
But Paul, a top Trump ally, called hopes that Russia would eventually admit to election meddling “naive” and said the U.S. should cease expecting a diplomatic confession from Russian President Vladimir Putin or members of his government.
“It’s like asking a country to admit to spying,” Paul said in an interview. “Are we going to wait until the end of time?”
Paul added, “Their answers were similar to what Putin has said. They said they didn’t do it and they had no intention of doing it. People who want something beyond that are never going to get it.”
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Paul said it was evident that Russian leaders’ “immediate goal” is addressing U.S. sanctions, which have disrupted Russia’s economy.
Paul’s comments and his private meetings last week with Russian leaders, such as Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, represent the latest attempt by Trump and his allies to improve relations with the Kremlin, even as U.S. intelligence officials are warning that Russia’s cyber-intrusions continue unabated and are aimed at damaging American democracy.
Paul on Monday said he accepts that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and “discussed very explicitly how we don’t want it to happen again” during his exchanges with Ryabkov and Russian legislative leaders.
While Paul did not meet with Putin, Trump wrote a letter to the Russian president that Paul delivered to Putin’s representatives, encouraging dialogue between the U.S. and Russia on countering terrorism and on building cultural ties.
A White House spokesman said last week that the White House provided the letter from Trump at Paul’s request.
Paul insists that too many Republicans and Democrats remain unwilling to consider the promise of improved relations with Russia due to the scrutiny on election interference and the ongoing special counsel probe led by Robert Mueller, which is also investigating possible obstruction of justice by the president.
“This is being lost in a partisan hysteria,” Paul said. “It’s becoming almost impossible to have a normal discussion with Russia without being accused of being pro-Russia or a traitor. It’s kind of ridiculous.”