- Associated Press
Thursday, February 16, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said Thursday that he was disappointed President Donald Trump has not been more critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said America needs to get tougher on Russia.

Toomey held a 40-minute town hall-style teleconference from Washington, amid criticism from Trump’s critics who have jammed Toomey’s office telephone lines, pressing him to oppose Trump’s nominees and agenda.

Toomey’s criticism of Trump centered on his stance toward Putin and Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

On Putin, Toomey ticked off a list of concerns, saying the Russian president is a dangerous man and an authoritarian who has stolen tens of billions of dollars from the Russians and is responsible for the murder of Russians, while Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and massacred civilians in Syria.

“It’s a long list of very bad behavior by Putin and I am disappointed that President Trump hasn’t been more openly critical of Vladimir Putin,” Toomey said.

Toomey said the U.S. needs to push back on Putin aggressively, including strengthening sanctions against Russia and providing help to Ukraine. Toomey said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis fully understand the threat that Putin poses.

Still, Toomey has backed every Trump Cabinet nominee and has said he will support Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. He also defended some of Trump’s moves, including executive orders to review the 2010 financial oversight law and make it easier for the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward.

Toomey, a conservative, was narrowly re-elected in November to a second six-year term in moderate Pennsylvania. Toomey was critical of Trump during the campaign, but still voted for him.

On the travel ban, Toomey repeated earlier criticism that Trump’s travel ban was too broad and poorly rolled out and explained.

Separately, Toomey backed Trump’s ouster of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, after Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about his discussion of U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. before the inauguration. However, Toomey also questioned how U.S. intelligence agencies came to know about Flynn’s conversations and said Flynn had been spied on.

The FBI has wide legal authority to eavesdrop on the conversations of foreign intelligence targets, including diplomats, inside the U.S. On Jan. 26, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates contacted White House counsel Don McGahn about the contacts, based on routine recordings of communications with foreign officials who are in the U.S.

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