Donald Trump Is 'Playing Lapdog' to Putin and Has 'Consistently Refused to Take on Russia,' Senator Says: 'It's Pretty Horrific'

A Democratic senator has hit out at President Donald Trump for his performance at last weekend's G7 summit in Biarritz, France, suggesting that his pattern of defending Russia despite its malign behavior is "horrific."

Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley lambasted the president for his campaign to readmit Russia to the G7 group of countries. The nation was booted out of the then G8 group after its invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

Trump has been lobbying for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be allowed back into the fold, despite opposition from most of the other leaders representing the world's most advanced economies, as defined by the International Monetary Fund.

Merkley suggested this support is characteristic of Trump's concerning backing for the Kremlin. "The president has consistently refused to take on Russia," he said. "Not over their interference in our elections, not over the annexation of Crimea, not over the occupation of eastern Ukraine, not over the assassination of Russian expatriate—the list goes on and on."

"Here we are right now with Russia continuing an active social media campaign in the United States trying to deepen divisions in our nation, probably going to work to interfere in our next election," Merkley continued.

Though special counsel Robert Mueller was unable to find evidence of cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, Moscow was found to have conducted a "sweeping and systematic" effort to disrupt the process and undermine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials have warned that little has been done to improve U.S. defenses against active measures and hacking, and that further meddling campaigns—from Russia or elsewhere—are likely during the 2020 race.

"We need a watchdog for America and the president is playing lapdog to President Putin. There is no explanation for it and there is no justification for it. It's pretty horrific," Merkley said.

CNN reported that G7 tensions over Russia turned into open dispute at a private dinner during the summit, citing a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the exchange. The opposition was reportedly led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, both of whom argued that Russia has grown less democratic since being removed from the G8.

But Trump stuck to his guns, continuing to blame predecessor Barack Obama for Russia's ejection. At a press conference on Monday, Trump suggested Obama had been "outsmarted" by Putin in Ukraine.

Speaking with reporters, Trump gave a very different account of the weekend discussions of Russia. "A lot of people say that having Russia, which is a power, having them inside the room is better than having them outside the room," the president said.

"By the way there were numerous people during the G7 that felt that way. And we didn't take a vote or anything but we did discuss it. My inclination is to say yes, they should be in," he added.

But according to CNN, only Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte—currently in limbo following the ruling coalition's collapse—agreed with Trump. The other three European leaders—French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel and Johnson—all rejected the idea.

Trump's time in Biarritz was punctuated with inaccurate and misleading statements, forcing the White House to issue a series of clarifying statements to try to save face on the president's behalf.

For example, Trump claimed there had been a call between high-level Chinese and U.S. officials seeking a new trade deal. However, the White House later said this was based on a public statement issued by China's foreign ministry rather than any significant behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The G7 took place as large swathes of the Amazon rain forest were ablaze in Brazil and Bolivia, exacerbating global concerns about humanity's ability to deal with climate change. However, the president failed to attend a meeting on the threat.

But Trump denied skipping the session. Asked by a reporter whether he attended, the president said it was his "next session…but we haven't had it yet," though the meeting had already taken place.

The White House later claimed the president was not at the talks because he was busy meeting Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, both leaders were filmed attending the climate change session alongside Trump's empty chair.

In another easily disproved gaffe, Donald Trump suggested that First Lady Melania Trump had got to know dictator Kim Jong Un and agrees with the president that the hermit authoritarian North Korean nation has "tremendous potential."

When observers pointed out that Melania has never met Kim, the White House explained, "President Trump confides in his wife on many issues, including the detailed elements of his strong relationship with Chairman Kim, and while the First Lady hasn't met him, the president feels like she's gotten to know him, too."

Regardless, Trump claimed Tuesday that the G7 was a total success for the U.S., blaming negative coverage on his detractors in the mainstream media. "The G-7 was a great success for the USA and all," he wrote on Twitter. "LameStream Media coverage bore NO relationship to what actually happened in France—FAKE NEWS. It was GREAT!"

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, G7, lapdog
President Donald Trump looks is pictured walking past Russian President Vladimir Putin during a photo session at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on November, 30, 2018. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty