As Republican President Donald Trump questioned his own agencies' intelligence findings Monday, Montana's U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, who went to Russia at the start of this month, rebuked the president, as did Montana's senior U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte.
All three issued statements Monday contradicting what Trump said as the president stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin in a press conference after the two held a private meeting in Helsinki.
Daines, Tester and Gianforte also showed support for findings by U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as several congressional committees, that Russia worked to influence the 2016 presidential elections in favor of Trump.
“I have the highest confidence in the men and women in our intelligence communities and their conclusive evidence regarding Russia’s deliberate efforts to interfere in our elections," Daines said in a statement Monday. "Russia is our adversary and must be held accountable for its aggressions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and around the world.”
Daines went to Russia the first week of this month and met with officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin. In a call with reporters after the trip, Daines said U.S. senators repeatedly told Russian officials not to meddle in U.S. elections, and received denials of that behavior from Russians.
Daines went to Russia with seven other Republicans, and while the delegation told Russia to stay out of U.S. elections this year, it did not lay out consequences if it were to happen again, the Billings Gazette reported last week.
Daines was not alone Monday as Republicans from leadership down to freshman in Congress slammed Trump, though some had much more harsh criticisms, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who called Trump's remarks "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
Tester, a Democrat, was critical of Trump's actions after the dual press conference with Trump and Putin.
“America’s top law enforcement and intelligence agencies agree that Russia is a hostile nation that has targeted America, threatened our democracy and undermined our national security. Our country must hold Putin accountable, not hold his hand,” Tester said.
Montana's U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, also split from Trump and called for the president to stand by a statement in March, when Trump said the U.S. would "counteract" any Russian meddling in the 2018 midterms.
“Russia is not our ally," Gianforte said. "American intelligence agencies have been clear: Russia has interfered and continues to interfere in our elections, and we must defend ourselves and ‘counteract whatever they do,’ as President Trump promised in March. Russia has promoted instability throughout the world, whether interfering in elections or deploying its forces to violate the sovereignty of other nations or conducting cyberwarfare, and must be held accountable.”
Both Gianforte and Tester are seeking re-election this fall. Tester has tried to walk a tightrope with Trump, who won Montana by 20 points in 2016.
Trump came to Montana on July 5 to hold a massive campaign-style rally as part of a promise to campaign against Tester after the senator brought forward allegations of inappropriate behavior by Trump's then-nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, who later withdrew his name from consideration. Trump told Tester there'd be a "big price to pay."
Tester has touted his 16 bills Trump has signed and took out a slightly tongue-in-cheek ad in papers around the state the day of Trump's rally welcoming the president to the state.
At the rally, Trump spoke about the Helsinki summit, saying "getting along with Russia … is a good thing." Trump also told the crowd, "Trust me, I'll do just fine" when meeting one-on-one with Putin.
The Republican Senate candidate Trump came to Montana to campaign for, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, said after Trump's news conference with Putin that he supports the president's meeting with the Russian president.
While Rosendale said "Russia is a threat to the United States and they have meddled in our elections," he said he agreed "with President Trump's decision to engage directly with Putin to improve our diplomatic relations in the pursuit of peace over conflict.''
"In the U.S. Senate, I will work with my colleagues and the administration to continue to expand sanctions and hold Putin accountable for his actions across the globe."
Rosendale aligned himself with Trump during the the four-way Republican primary and appeared on stage with Trump at the Great Falls rally.