Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says Trump is not a ‘Russian stooge'

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart said President Donald Trump is no “Russian stooge” as he pushed back at CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday when the host pressed the Utah Republican on why he wasn’t concerned that Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think kind of the premise of the question once again was, ‘Well, we know he’s a Russian stooge and we know they’re secretly collaborating against America,’” Stewart said. “I just frankly think that’s silliness. I don’t think that’s true at all.”

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, clarified that he didn't think Tapper was calling Trump a Russian agent but that, “Some people actually do and I just think that's an unfair characterization of the president's intentions.”

The live interview came after Trump attempted to walk back his comments Monday where he — standing next to Putin — dissed the American intelligence community’s finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to boost Trump.

In a news conference with Putin in Finland, Trump was asked if he brought up the Russian interferences in the election. Trump said Putin told him it wasn’t Russia.

“I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trying to clarify his remarks Tuesday, Trump read a prepared statement — with a few off-the-cuff comments — that said he misspoke.

“In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia,” Trump said. He added, it was “sort of a double negative.”

Trump's initial comments prompted swift and bipartisan criticism, including from Stewart who said he had no problem with the one-on-one conversation between the two leaders but that Trump was wrong not to acknowledge the election meddling.

“President Trump denying their involvement in the obvious is a mistake,” Stewart tweeted. “Russia must be held accountable for their actions.”

Tuesday, Stewart told CNN that “I love this president” and has supported his policies generally but that Trump was wrong to say what he did and needed to walk it back.

“If it was an attempt to clean up, he needed a pretty big broom,” Stewart said, referring to Trump's clarifying comments.

Trump, while adding that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian interference, said he accepts the American intelligence agencies that it was Russia that messed with the election, it “could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

When Tapper asked Stewart why that wasn't a cop out.

“I think both things could be true,” Stewart responded. “Look, China clearly hits us every day with cyberattacks. So does Iran. So does North Korea and a bunch of other countries. But the focus in 2016 is on Russia. Russia was the country.”

After Stewart's CNN interview, comedian Kathy Griffin, who lost a TV show and other appearances after posting a video of her holding a severed, bloody head of a mask of Trump, tweeted that Stewart was “embarrassing yourself right now...you probably don't care...but someone has to tell you.”

Stewart’s office responded, “Embarrassing? Don’t get aHEAD of yourself.”