After President Donald Trump seemed willing to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that his country interfered with the U.S. election, Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Rep. John Curtis issued public statements siding with U.S. intelligence agencies, who concluded that Russia did meddle.
Neither Hatch nor Lee mentioned Trump in the statements. Hatch has been a vociferous supporter of the president while Lee did not support Trump in the election and has voted against him more often than any Republican senator except Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, according to fivethirtyeight.
Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, was the only member of Utah’s all-Republican delegation to directly criticize Trump.
“President Trump is wrong. Russia meddled in the 2016 elections," Stewart said in a statement. “Russia is led by a former KGB thug who only understands lies and manipulation."
While he applauded attempts to improve U.S.-Russian relations — including the closed-door meeting of the two presidents — he said Trump has erred in accepting Putin’s denials.
"Engaging with Russia is a good thing. Having a private one-on-one conversation with Putin is fine. President Trump denying their involvement in the obvious is a mistake. Russia must be held accountable for their actions.”
Curtis did not directly respond to the president’s widely criticized comments after his private meeting with Putin but said the administration needs to hold Russia accountable for its attacks on democracy.
Trump stood next to Putin at a joint news conference in Helsinki on Monday and said “I don’t see any reason why” Russia would interfere in the election. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Hatch, in a series of tweets, had a very different message.
“Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Our nation’s top intelligence agencies all agree on that point. From the President on down, we must do everything in our power to protect our democracy by securing future elections from foreign influence and interference, regardless of what Vladimir Putin or any other Russian operative says," Hatch said in a tweet Monday morning.
″I trust the good work of our intelligence and law enforcement personnel who have sworn to protect the United States of America from enemies foreign and domestic.”
Lee, in a statement released by his Senate office, criticized Putin for not admitting the election meddling, but not Trump.
“We’ve known for years that the Russians routinely try and influence U.S. elections," Lee said. “It is unfortunate that President Putin refuses to acknowledge these facts."
Asked for his response to Trump seeming to give credance to Putin’s denials, Lee’s spokesman said: “The statement [above] speaks directly to anyone who claims Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.”
Curtis, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he remains "very concerned about Russian aggression towards America and our Western allies — including Moscow meddling in our elections. The administration should proceed with caution in dealing with Putin and should hold Russia accountable for their attacks on democratic societies and institutions.”
Rep. Mia Love issued a mild rebuke to the president and in doing so was only the second member of Utah’s delegation to call him out by name.
“President Trump must understand that the world counts on our nation to set the tone and hold thugs accountable. Today he failed to do so.”
Love said there was simply “no question that Russia meddled in the 2016 election," adding that its hostility to the United States continues."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Love’s Democratic election opponent, called on Americans of both parties to “resist Russian attacks with all the tools at our disposal.” He did not call out the president.
Rep. Rob Bishop, the senior member of Utah’s House delegation, said “Russia is not our friend," adding that nothing is new about its efforts to undermine American interests abroad and at home."
He did not criticize the president or his administration, but urged “extreme caution when dealing with Vladimir Putin."
Mitt Romney, an occasional Trump critic and current candidate for U.S. Senate, said “President Trump’s decision to side with Putin over American intelligence agencies is disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles.”
As he did during his 2012 presidential campaign, Romney called Russia the “number one geopolitical adversary” of the United States, and said claiming a moral equivalence between the two countries “not only defies reason and history, it undermines our national integrity and impairs our global credibility.”
Last month, in an op-ed for The Salt Lake Tribune, Romney wrote that he planned to speak out when the president’s actions or comments were “divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
“I do not make this a daily commentary,” he wrote at the time. “I express contrary views only when I believe it is a matter of substantial significance.”
Romney’s Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, called Trump’s performance in embracing Putin a threat to national security.
“Further,” she said, “his public and ongoing criticism and dismissal of the FBI, all the while excusing the actions of Russia, is unconscionable. We are a nation that has invested deeply in our standing in the world only to watch our own elected leader dismantle that standing.”
Reporter Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.