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Grassley, Ernst on Trump 'Misspeak'

Iowa Public Radio
Sen. Chuck Grassley (L) and Sen. Joni Ernst

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says he is satisfied with President Donald Trump’s explanation for his controversial remarks in Finland this week that caused an outpouring of criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.  

At a news conference on Monday, Trump concurred with President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.   That contradicted Trump’s own intelligence agencies conclusions that Russian agents were behind U.S.  cybersecurity violations.

I don't know how much damage has been done. -Sen. Chuck Grassley

On Tuesday, Trump walked back his comments and said he misspoke. 

In a conference call with Iowa reporters, Sen. Grassley called the president’s revision “honorable.”

“He said he made a mistake, and he apologized for it,” Grassley said.   “We ought to accept his apology and say praise the Lord when anybody in politics said they did anything wrong.”

In Monday’s press conference from Helsinki,  President Putin denied involvement in the U.S. elections.   President Trump backed him up, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia.”   Later, Trump said he meant to say “wouldn’t,” not “would.’

In her conference call with Iowa reporters, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst was asked if she believed the president’s explanation.

“I can't tell you what the president meant to say or what he didn't say,” Ernst said.  “All I can say is he should have been very clear from the get-go.”

I can't tell you what the president meant to say. -Sen. Joni Ernst

Ernst said she would not support a bipartisan resolution in the Senate to hold hearings on the Putin-Trump summit, which was held with only interpreters present to witness the remarks.   Ernst said it’s the president’s business what he says to foreign leaders.

“Of course I would love to know but I understand that our leaders will meet and they won't disclose all of that information,” Ernst said.  “So I feel if there is something significant that we need to know that the administration will bring that to us in short order.”

The bipartisan resolution by  Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Democrat Christopher Coons would also call for sanctions to punish Russia for election interference.    Ernst said she hopes the Trump administration will brief Congress on the need for additional sanctions.   

Ernst added that it would have been better if someone besides the two leaders had been present at the summit  to corroborate what was said, because she doesn’t trust Vladimir Putin “any further than I can throw him.” 
Sen. Grassley was asked if the president’s clarifying remarks were enough to erase any potential damage from his initial statement backing Putin. 

“I don't know how much damage has been done on the global stage,” Grassley said.  “It takes time to make that determination.” 

Post was amended at 3:06 7/19/2018 to add details about the bipartisan resolution.