WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said Sunday that the U.S. and Western allies must stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the face of “aggression” and “provocations” from Moscow.
“We have to have the resolve, I mean, we have to,” said Johnson, R-Wisc., the chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, in an exclusive interview on "Meet The Press.”
“I wish Russia were no more than a friendly rival,” Johnson said. “But unfortunately, they're an unfriendly adversary. And it's been their aggression, their provocations, that have really resulted in a relationship that is not healthy for the world, for world peace.”
Johnson specifically cited Russia’s involvement in Iran and Syria, the invasion of Crimea in Ukraine, threats to eastern Europe, and the need to enforce sanctions on North Korea as points of tension between the two countries.
“We need to work with Russia,” he added. “They have 7,000 nuclear weapons. So I understand the president's desire to try and improve relations with Russia. But you have to look at the reality of the situation and react accordingly, as well.”
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said Friday on “Today” that he can’t remember a period of worse relations between the two countries.
The United States announced a decision last week to expel 60 diplomats from Russia and close the Russian consulate in Seattle following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. Russia responded by announcing a move to expel 60 U.S. diplomats and close the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.
Johnson added that he has “no idea” whether the way President Donald Trump talks about Putin is influenced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 election.
But he did say that he “absolutely” believes Mueller’s investigation has hampered the ability of concurrent investigations in Congress to get information.
“I would've much rather had the Senate and House Intelligence Committees complete their report,” he said. “Because I know what happens. When you have a criminal investigation, it's that much more difficult for Congress to get the information, to allow the American public to understand what's happening.”
Johnson said he felt the Justice Department appointed a special counsel “too soon.”
“I would've rather had the process play out,” he said. “Because I think public disclosure, the public's right to know, trumps everything else.”
But not all Republicans speaking out this weekend made the point that the congressional investigations should have come first.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the current chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who is not running for re-election, said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that he was glad to have Mueller appointed because "Congress has proven itself incapable of conducting a serious investigation."
"Congressional investigations leak like the gossip girls," he said. "They’re terrible. I mean, they're terrible, and I would be telling you that if I were staying in Congress. They are just not serious."