It is the second time in a month that Trump has sided with a foreign government over American lawmakers.
Trump has been completely silent following Russia's refusal to allow two U.S. Senators — Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) — to travel to the country. Both senators have been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to undermine other governments.
"Senators Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, planned to visit Russia next week with Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to meet with government officials and American businesses in the country. But both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy said they were denied visas," the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Johnson announced on Monday evening that Russia denied him a travel visa to visit as part of a planned congressional delegation in September.
"Working with Ambassador Huntsman, I had hoped direct dialogue with Russian parliamentarians could help set the stage for better future relations between our two nations. Unfortunately, Russian officials continue to play diplomatic games with this sincere effort and have denied me entrance to Russia," Johnson wrote.
The Russian Embassy responded to Johnson's statement with a belligerent tweet, accusing him of making "groundless accusations against Russia" and asserting that "he is ready not for a dialogue but a confrontation."
"With the collapse of recent arms control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations' fragile relationship, and it's a shame that Russia isn't interested in dialogue," Murphy told the Times.
The visa denials follow critical remarks on Russia from the senators.
In April, Murphy told NATO allies to be "constantly vigilant about the very quiet things that the Russians are doing that could ultimately lead to a traditional military confrontation," citing the Russian regime's support for "fight clubs and biker clubs" as part of an operation hoping to sow the seeds of domestic instability in other nations.
In March, Johnson and Murphy revealed legislation designed to counter Putin's actions to wield influence in Europe. Their bill would finance $1 billion in energy projects.
"The Kremlin uses bribery, corruption and scare tactics to coerce countries in Eastern Europe into remaining dependent on Russian energy and oil," Murphy said in a statement. Johnson said Russia " can — and will — coerce nations that are dependent upon its energy," adding, "Countering the destabilizing influence that Russia’s energy dominance has in the region is important for Europe and U.S. national security interests."
Last July, Johnson called for sanctions on Putin's inner circle of oligarchs.
"When ruthless, strong people perceive weakness, they pounce," he said of Russia. "Russia wants to reconstitute, basically, its sphere of influence that they had in the Soviet Union."
Despite a public back-and-forth between the senators and Russian officials, and coverage in a major outlet like the Times, Trump hasn't said anything. But, since the news broke, Trump has commented on issues including using nuclear missiles on hurricanes, bedbugs at his hotels, books written by Fox News hosts, Elizabeth Warren's crowd sizes, and other matters.
The State Department has been silent as well, with no press releases on the denial. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked about Russia in a local television interview on Tuesday, he did not bring up the diplomatic rejection. But he did amplify Trump's message at the G-7 conference that Russia should be readmitted to the economic meeting. (They were expelled after the annexation of Crimea)
Trump's silence follows his asking the Israeli government to deny requests to travel to two Democratic congresswomen. Republicans cheered that decision, choosing a foreign government over their fellow American lawmakers.
According to U.S. intelligence agencies and a Senate investigation, Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election on Trump's behalf, preferring him over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In the presidency, Russia has seen Trump emerge as one of its most prominent advocates, to the point where an international snub of senators doesn't appear to matter at all.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.