Republicans are finding themselves on defense again after former President Trump urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to release dirt on the Biden family.
The remarks are the latest Trump-fueled headache for Republicans this week and the most recent entry in a years-long fissure between Trump and many congressional Republicans over Russia.
Trump’s comments also come at a politically awkward moment for GOP lawmakers trying to push the Biden administration to do more in response to Putin’s weeks-long, bloody invasion of Ukraine.
“My message to Putin is he needs to go,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has remained close to Trump since he left office last year, when asked about the former president’s comments.
Asked if he thought making the remark was appropriate, Graham added: “That would not be something that I would do, no.”
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said, “We have very little control over what the former president says, obviously.”
“You know, there are a lot of voices out there right now, and you have to stay focused on the goal and that is to give the Ukrainians whatever they need to succeed and be victorious. And I think that’s actually a possibility,” Thune added, asked if it stepped on Senate Republicans’ message on Russia.
Trump set off alarm bells on Tuesday night when he said in an interview that he thought Putin should release any information he might have on Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son.
“One thing, while I’m on your show, as long as Putin now is not exactly a fan of our country, let him explain, where did – because Chris Wallace wouldn’t let me ask the question – why did the mayor of Moscow’s wife give the Bidens, both of them, $3.5 million dollars? That’s a lot of money,” Trump told John Solomon and Amanda Head on “Just the News” on the Real America’s Voice network.
Trump added that, “I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it.”
Trump was referencing a controversial 2020 Senate GOP report on President Biden and Hunter Biden that resulted in little proof of wrongdoing. He doubled down on his comments on Wednesday, saying that “Russia may be willing to give that information.”
Solomon, a former employee of The Hill, faced scrutiny for his opinion columns during Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 relating to Ukraine. The Hill subsequently launched a review of those columns.
Democrats made the case at the time that Trump abused his power by trying to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens, including linking a probe to assistance.
Not all Republicans distanced themselves from Trump’s comments.
“If he believes Vladimir Putin has information a crime has been committed, you know, sure, why not?” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), asked if Trump’s comments were appropriate.
But it’s hardly the first Russia-related headache for the GOP in response to Trump, which has been a running point of contention between the former president, who remains the de facto leader of the party, and congressional Republicans.
The GOP-controlled Congress enacted new sanctions on Russia in 2017 over initial objections from the Trump administration. And more recently, Trump sparked pushback, including from regular Capitol Hill allies, when he called Putin “savvy” and a “genius.”
“I do not think anything savvy or genius about Putin,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in a rare break.
“I think Putin is evil. I think he’s a dictator. I think he’s murdering people right now,” McCarthy added.
Trump also appeared to relitigate those comments in his statement on Wednesday, saying that he was calling Putin a “genius” for building up troops along the Russia-Ukraine border before its invasion “because I assumed he would be easily able to negotiate a great deal for Russia.”
Trump’s latest comments come as Republicans are already facing questions this week over whether they communicated with him on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of the then-president’s supporters breached the Capitol and disrupted the counting of the 2020 Electoral College results for hours.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got questions at a weekly press conference about a call Trump made to him, and that he declined to answer, on the day of the attack.
“I’ve said repeatedly the last time I spoke to the president was the day after the Electoral College declared President Biden the winner. I publicly congratulated President Biden on his victory and received a phone call after that from President Trump, and that’s the last time we’ve spoken,” McConnell said when asked why he did not take Trump’s call.
Congressional Republicans also offered a split-screen to Trump on Russia Wednesday, when Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the co-chairs of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, met with members of Ukraine’s parliament.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with members of the Ukraine parliament today. America is inspired by their courage and the bravery of the Ukrainian people to fight back against Russian aggression,” Portman said after the meeting, adding that the administration should do more faster on sanctions and lethal aid.
Republicans also predicted that whatever comes from Trump’s latest comments, like much of what the president says, is largely out of their control.
“I don’t know how I would answer that. That will be like things involving him, it will unfurl,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said about whether Trump’s comments were appropriate, adding that it was “out of my control.”