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SC Republicans chide Trump for yielding to Putin on election meddling

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Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump (copy)

President Donald Trump with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (front left), and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during a January meeting on immigration. Graham said Monday that Trump had missed an opportunity to forcefully respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin for meddling in the 2016 election. File/Andrew Harnik/AP

Four prominent South Carolina Republicans publicly voiced displeasure with President Donald Trump's widely panned performance in his joint press conference Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, described the event as a "missed opportunity" for Trump to hold Russia accountable for meddling in the 2016 American elections and warn him against taking similar actions in the future.

"This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves," said Graham.

U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy reaffirmed unequivocally that Russia did attempt to "impugn the reliability of the 2016 election" and create discord among the American public.

"Russia is not our friend," Gowdy said.

Gowdy said he hopes other members of the president's foreign policy circle, including United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, will be better able to explain to Trump that it is possible to conclude Russia did interfere in 2016 "without delegitimizing his electoral success."

Describing Russia as neither a friend nor ally, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said Trump's summit with Putin offered an opportunity to confront Russian aggression.

"As Americans, we stand up for our interests and values abroad," Scott said, "but I fear today was a step backwards."

Those comments still paled in comparison to some other Republicans. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who has disagreed with the president with increasing intensity since losing his GOP primary race last month, said Graham's characterization of the press conference as a "missed opportunity" would be putting it lightly.

"Ignoring Russia’s attempted involvement in American elections in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is wrong and inexplicable," said Sanford.

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Other South Carolina lawmakers took a less explicit approach to confronting Trump.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, a senior member on both the foreign affairs and armed services committees, said no foreign powers should get away with meddling in American elections.

“I look forward to working with President Donald Trump and his team to secure our elections going forward, ensuring that this never happens," said Wilson.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice avoided a direct appraisal of Trump's performance but reiterated that Russia did in fact interfere in the 2016 election and said the country "must be held accountable" for their actions.

Rice added that he appreciated Trump's efforts to open lines of communication between the two countries.

"But the bottom line is this: Russia is not our friend and President Putin cannot be trusted,” Rice said.

Other members of the South Carolina delegation did not respond to requests for comment.

After meeting with Putin for multiple hours in Helsinki, Finland, Trump declined to say whether he believes his own intelligence agencies over the Russian president about any election interference.

He deferred to Putin. 

"I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said.

Fresh off of hosting the World Cup in Russia, Putin also gifted Trump a soccer ball during the press conference. Graham suggested Trump should "check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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