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Sen. Jeff Flake Delivers Rebuke Of Trump-Putin Summit


I'm Ari Shapiro on Capitol Hill, where Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, started the day trying to make a strong statement about the Senate's position on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.


JEFF FLAKE: We have indulged myths and fabrications, pretended that it wasn't so bad, and our indulgence got us the capitulation in Helsinki.

SHAPIRO: Along with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, Flake introduced a resolution acknowledging Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, expressing support for the Justice Department investigation and calling for oversight hearings about what happened in Helsinki. Flake used the speech to attack President Trump directly and personally for Monday's news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


FLAKE: This should have been not much of a test at all for any American president, and yet it was. And our president failed that test.

SHAPIRO: Things did not go the way Flake hoped. Almost as soon as he stepped aside, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas took the microphone, and he said, sure, Russians interfered in the presidential election.


JOHN CORNYN: It's absolutely clear they did, and the president has said as much on a number of occasions. Now, I agree. In Helsinki, he was less than clear about that, but he came back and said that he misspoke.

SHAPIRO: And then Cornyn blocked the measure.


CORNYN: It is purely a symbolic act. And what we need to do is not just offer symbolic resolutions on the floor. We need to do the hard work that senators have to do through the regular order.

SHAPIRO: Caught off guard, Flake came back to the microphone.


FLAKE: Yes, it's symbolic, and symbolism is important. Our agencies of government need to know that we stand behind them. That's what this is about.

SHAPIRO: Jeff Flake is retiring. He doesn't need the approval of Republican voters who mostly support President Trump. And that points to a pattern in the GOP right now which I asked Flake about when he left the Senate floor and came back to speak with reporters alongside Senator Coons.

Senator Flake, the Republicans who have been most vocal on this issue are all retiring this year, including yourself. This nonbinding resolution was blocked almost as soon as it was proposed. Why do you have faith that the Senate will do anything?

FLAKE: All we can do is keep trying. And that's why, you know, we've put together a bipartisan bill. As he mentioned, we travel together. These countries - I can tell you. Being in Latvia and hearing the Latvian government who hears propaganda out of Moscow every day playing to 40 percent of their population which is Russian speaking - to hear that NATO is weak, that America is an unreliable ally and then to hear those messages reinforced last week at the NATO Summit and then again in Helsinki, it just - it hurts all of us.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think your Republican colleagues don't find that argument convincing?

FLAKE: I - some of them do. I think they do. And I think some - and we've heard a number of them speak out. I hope that not just individuals but our leadership as well will take substantive action. We've got to find out what the Russian ambassador was referring to yesterday when he said that important agreements were reached. We don't know. We have no idea. We've got to find that out. There are certain things that have to be taken. But today, to not agree to a symbolic resolution simply saying we stand with our intelligence community and don't believe the denials of a dictator - it should have been passed.

SHAPIRO: Jeff Flake said he's not ready to give up. He's going to keep lobbying Republicans and bring back his proposal again, perhaps next week. And this afternoon, the Senate did approve a much more modest resolution opposing making U.S. officials available for questioning by the Russian government. The vote was 98 to 0. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.