Top aides to President Donald Trump faced calls from critics to resign after the U.S. leader publicly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin and against the U.S. intelligence community over charges that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and national security adviser John Bolton were among the officials who political commentators and lawmakers said should quit their posts over the president’s seeming submission to Putin during a joint news conference Monday.
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Even some on the right jumped into the fray, largely via social media, to suggest that Cabinet officials or other top members of Trump’s team should look for the exits.
“After today the principals who think they’re indispensable should draw straws and one should go,” Ross Douthat, a prominent conservative columnist with The New York Times, wrote on Twitter.
There was no sign that any Trump aides would be quitting; a Pentagon spokesman said Mattis is not considering it, while a National Security Council staffer declined to comment when asked about Bolton’s future. The State Department did not respond to a question on Pompeo’s plans.
Others called on U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, White House chief of staff John Kelly, and Fiona Hill, a top Russia hand on the National Security Council, to call it quits.
“If you’re on the Trump national security team, and you’ve been out there saying how strong Trump is on Russia and how serious our commitment is to NATO, how do you not resign after the last four days?” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) chimed in on Twitter.
Mike Murphy, a Republican political consultant who has long opposed Trump, singled out the director of national intelligence, who just days ago warned that Russia is still pursuing cyber and other means to undermine U.S. elections.
“If (Dan) Coats doesn’t resign today, he has no honor,” Murphy tweeted.
Aides to Coats did not respond to requests for comment on whether he’ll resign, but Coats issued a statement defending the intelligence community’s assessment and casting Russian interference as “ongoing” and “pervasive.”
Among those calling for Pompeo and Bolton to quit was former CIA Director John Brennan, who said on MSNBC that Putin was clearly the “master puppeteer” of the man in the Oval Office.
Trump, standing next to Putin in Helsinki, refused to say he believed U.S. intelligence assessments about Russian election interference. Trump appeared to take Putin’s claim that Russia was innocent at face value.
“I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said, although he added that he has confidence in both parties — Putin and U.S. intelligence.
Trump’s comments, as well what many deemed to be an overall timid performance next to the Russian strongman, stunned former U.S. officials, analysts and others. Some said they could not recall similar behavior by an American head of state.
“It’s totally without precedent,” said Thomas Wright, a scholar with the Brookings Institution. “There’s no doubt now that he does have an ideological agenda that’s in favor of Putin.”
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican critic of Trump who is not running for re-election, tweeted: “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”
Putin denied Monday that Moscow intervened in the 2016 election, but he admitted that he wanted Trump to win.
“Yes, I did. Yes, I did,” the Russian president said. “Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
Despite Trump’s rhetoric, his administration has taken some steps to pressure Russia on a range of issues, including imposing sanctions — although some of that was a result of laws passed by Congress.
Some Trump aides may choose to stay on out of a sense of duty to country, and a hope that even if they can’t rein in Trump’s words, they can nonetheless influence his policies, analysts and former officials pointed out. They warned, however, that as time goes on and Trump becomes more confident, he could peel back or slow-roll the policies as well.
Wright said that even if current aides decide to stay on, those who have already left the administration — such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster — should speak up.
“It’s long past due that they speak out,” Wright said.
The divergence in Russia-related messaging from current Trump aides and Trump himself has been obvious in recent days as Trump has spent time in Europe.
On Sunday, for instance, Pompeo tweeted out what appeared to be a warning to Russia. “A better relationship with the Russian government would benefit all, but the ball is in Russia’s court,” the secretary of state wrote. “We will continue to hold Russia responsible for its malign activities.”
Asked whether Pompeo had any thoughts about Trump’s comments Monday in Helsinki, the State Department did not immediately respond.
Wesley Morgan contributed to this report.