Trump 'missed an opportunity' in Helsinki: Republicans who helped pave the way for Putin summit sound disappointed

  • Trump did not side with the conclusions of his own administration's intelligence community during a joint press conference with Putin on Monday.
  • In the latest political fallout from the president's performance, the same Republicans who spent their Fourth of July in Russia to help Trump are now urging him to fix his initial response.
  • Many of the GOP lawmakers from the Russia delegation took clear sides in statements to CNBC, displaying unanimous trust in the intelligence community and, in some cases, criticizing Trump directly.
Sen. John Hoeven, congresswoman Kay Granger, US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr,  Sen. Richard Shelby, and United States Sen. John Thune, (L-R) at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's meeting in Moscow, July 3, 2018. 
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
Sen. John Hoeven, congresswoman Kay Granger, US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr,  Sen. Richard Shelby, and United States Sen. John Thune, (L-R) at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's meeting in Moscow, July 3, 2018. 

President Donald Trump's appearance with Russia's Vladimir Putin prompted swift reactions on Capitol Hill, even from the group of Republican lawmakers who had traveled to Moscow to smooth things over beforehand.

The delegation of seven senators and one representative — as well as U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who reportedly invited them — met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Kremlin officials in early July to discuss mending the two countries' frayed relations.

The lawmakers said they repeatedly challenged Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But Trump himself refused to side with the conclusions of his own administration's intelligence community during a joint press conference with Putin on Monday.

In the latest political fallout from the president's performance, the same Republicans who spent their Fourth of July in Russia to help Trump issued responses distancing themselves from the president's remarks.

At least one criticized Trump directly. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Trump "missed an opportunity to publicly condemn Russia for election interference or offer strong support for the NATO alliance."

"The problem with our relationship is not American actions but rather Russia’s duplicitous behavior. Putin is not our friend; he’s an adversary intent on continuing Russia’s disruptive activities, including meddling in our own democratic process," Moran said.

"In my view, this summit and my meetings with Russian officials in Moscow did nothing to suggest we should roll back sanctions and reaffirmed that Congress must continue to hold Russia accountable," he added.

'Russia's bad behavior'

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama had tied his delegation to Trump's summit with Putin. "We’re hoping that coming out of the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki will be the beginning, maybe, of a new day. We will have to wait and see," Shelby told Lavrov during his trip. "We recognize that the world’s better off, I believe, if Russia and the U.S. have fewer tensions."

Shelby did not provide a statement in response to CNBC's requests for comment for this story. He led the delegation in opening remarks with Lavrov in at least one meeting and had extended an olive branch at the time: "We have some common interests," Shelby said to the Russian official. "We are competitors, but we don't necessarily need to be adversaries."

Trump on Tuesday touted his meeting with Putin as a great success, saying it was "even better" than an earlier summit with North Atlantic Treaty Organization members.

But Trump felt a bipartisan backlash after he said "I don’t see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked Democrats during the 2016 campaign and suggested that the U.S. and Russia were both responsible for the nations' strained relationship.

The intelligence community agreed as early as January 2017 that Putin directed an influence campaign during the U.S. election and that he had a clear preference for Trump.

Other GOP lawmakers from the Russia delegation took clear sides in statements to CNBC, displaying unanimous trust in the intelligence community.

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said America's "deteriorating relationship with Russia has but one cause: Russia’s bad behavior." Johnson urged Trump "to forcefully and repeatedly demand that the Putin regime dramatically improve its behavior.”

Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota said, "We know Russia meddled in our election based on information from our intelligence agencies," adding "that is not acceptable and we need to make clear to the Putin regime that we will keep our sanctions in place and work with our allies to increase pressure on Russia until its behavior changes."

In a tweet, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Russia "must be held accountable for attempting to disrupt our democracy."

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who returned from the trip early to accompany Trump on Air Force One en route to a rally, said, "Russia is our adversary and must be held accountable for its aggressions in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and around the world.”

Huntsman, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas and Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.