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House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday seemed to distance himself from President Donald Trump in regard to Russia after reports surfaced of possible inappropriate contacts between the president’s top aides and Russian intelligence officials.
Ryan told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that if the Trump administration tried to weaken sanctions against Moscow, he would support codifying them.
The Wisconsin Republican also addressed Mike Flynn’s resignation as the head of the National Security Council and suggested that he’s uncomfortable with Trump’s flattering rhetoric toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Ryan said Trump was right to ask for Flynn’s resignation after reports surfaced that he’d had contact with a Russian diplomat, the content of which he didn’t fully disclose to the administration.
“If you have a national security adviser who was misleading two officials in the White House like the vice president, and if that person has lost the trust of the president, the president should let him go, ask for his resignation and I think the president was right to do that,” Ryan said.
He also made clear that he believes reports that Russia tried to meddle with the US election, but also said there is no evidence that shows Trump or his aides were in on it.
“There’s no secret here – Russia tried to meddle with our elections,” Ryan said. “This is why I’m a fan of the sanctions. This is why I’m a Russia hawk and a Russia skeptic, because their interests don’t convene with our interests.”
The Obama administration implemented additional sanctions against Russia in December, before Trump’s inauguration.
“I think we should have done these sanctions a while ago, I was frustrated the Obama administration took so long to put these sanctions in place,” Ryan said. “So if those sanctions were to be watered down, I would for sure support codifying them and making sure that they don’t get watered down because I do believe Russia is a global menace and their interests are not aligned with our interests.”
Ryan also said that he doesn’t think Trump’s plans to strengthen ties to Russia is likely to work.
“The question is can we trust Russia, and I say the answer is no,” he said, adding, “New administrations, for reasonable and practical reasons, try to improve the relationship because it would be nice if their interests aligned with ours. I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen or work.”
Ryan seemed to agree with Trump that Russia could possibly help with the fight against the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, but didn’t seem optimistic about any deeper coordination.
“Maybe in Syria our interests can intersect for a period of time, but that’s all about anything good or possibly good I could see with Russia going forward,” he said.
When asked about Trump’s posture toward Russia and Putin, Ryan again distanced himself from the administration.
“Comments of moral equivalency do bother me. Look, I don’t want to practice relativism in our foreign policy or in life and so I do not subscribe to any notion of a moral equivalency between Russia, which is killing people and invading other nations, and the United States of America, so yeah the whole moral equivalency idea is a notion I don’t like,” the speaker said.
But he defended Trump’s efforts as being “rational.”
“This president believes that it would be better for American national security if Russia started, you know, rowing in the same direction rather than against us,” Ryan said. “That’s a rational thing to believe. It would be great if it happened.”
He also said that Trump is a good dealmaker and might be able to accomplish what previous administrations have failed to do with regard to improving US relations with Russia.