• Corker: 'I take a back seat to no one' on challenging Trump about NATO, Russia

    By: USA Today

    Updated:

    WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Wednesday that he will be one of the Senate's toughest questioners about President Trump's dealings with European allies and Russia during the past week.

    "I’ll take a back seat to no one in the United States Senate on challenging what happened at NATO, what happened in Helsinki," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said at a hearing. "I take a back seat on no one on pressing this administration for some of the worst things that I’ve seen happen in public as it relates to our country."

    In separate remarks to reporters, Corker said he also is looking at whether it would be appropriate to request the notes taken by a translator at the private meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Some Democrats have asked that the interpreter be called to testify before the committee.

    Requesting the interpreter's notes "would be unprecedented" and could have other consequences, Corker conceded.

    "You’ve got to remember, these interpreters sometimes are not policy people," he said. "They are in some cases contract folks. In the future, would any notes even be allowed to be taken if we started doing this kind of thing?"

    Corker also criticized Trump's attempt to take back comments in Helsinki that appeared to accept Russia's denial of meddling in the 2016 election.

    "I think the White House has additional steps to take to rectify what has occurred," Corker said. "They took a very minor step yesterday. We can see it was very painful for them to do so."

    He said Trump has his own style as a businessman, but "it’s a whole lot easier to go around wrecking everything and to be a wrecking ball of relationships that have existed for 70 years" than to work together with people.

    "I think sometimes the president conflates flattery towards him, kindness towards him, as a response by our country to their country, when really that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is those policies that affect our citizens," he said.

    Corker's comments at a hearing for a top State Department official came after the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, argued lawmakers deserve to know whether Trump made any agreements in private with Putin.

    Corker said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would come before the committee next Wednesday and members from both parties would have time to "grill him."

    Pompeo was originally invited to brief the committee about Trump's meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in June, a trip Trump said resulted in North Korea no longer being a nuclear threat. It now will also include dealings with Europe and Russia.

    "I don’t know if anything occurred in North Korea other than a press conference," Corker said. "So I have the same questions."

    Corker, who is retiring this year rather than seeking re-election, agreed with Menendez that the State Department has not honored past committee requests to have witnesses come to hearings to discuss administration policy. 

    Speaking to nominee Brian J. Bulatao, who is being considered for to be Under Secretary of State for Management, Corker said the department's relationship with the committee "isn't what it ought to be" and the administration makes it too hard to get answers.

    "I look forward to working with you in putting whatever pressure we need to put on the administration," Corker said to Menendez. "The first step is getting him up there like we’ve both pushed for. And it is now happening."

    Contributing: Michael Collins

     

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