President Donald Trump said Tuesday he congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin for winning reelection earlier this month, provoking a strong rebuke from GOP Sen. John McCain. Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said that he congratulated Putin — a figure who has loomed over his administration because of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election — on winning another term.
The result of the election, however, was never in doubt, given Putin’s autocratic stranglehold on power. Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin on his electoral win drew consternation from McCain who said that “an American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections.”
“And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime,” McCain added.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later said that two key issues — Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and accusations that Russia used a nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom — likely did not come up during the call, but disagreed with McCain’s criticism.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. Putin has been elected in their country and it not something we can dictate to them how they operate,” Sanders said.
Trump did tell reporters that he would meet with Putin in the “not too distant future.”
“I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory,” Trump said during his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. “The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future so that we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race.”