National Politics

Pence: Trump administration 'watching' Russia

McConnell on Putin: 'He's a thug'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration is "watching" Russia and "very troubled" by its violation of a ceasefire in Ukraine last week.

It was the latest of a series of mixed messages from the White House on Russia to come in a series of days.

President Donald Trump equated American actions with the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

When O'Reilly noted Putin is "a killer," Trump said: "There are a lot of killers. You think our country's so innocent?"

Trump's defense of Russia came just days after his United Nations ambassador lashed out at Moscow.

"The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea," said Nikki Haley, Trump's envoy to the world body. "Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine."

On Sunday, Pence said Trump spoke with Putin about Ukraine.

"I think there's a growing recognition in the world community that there is a new style of leadership, not just a new leader in the White House," Pence said on ABC's "This Week."

"President Trump is bringing a very candid and direct type of leadership to the White House," Pence said. "And in conversations with leaders around the world, frankly, I think they all find it very refreshing."

As for Russia, Pence said: "If we have opportunities to work together, I think the President is looking for an opportunity to begin that relationship anew. But -- make no mistake about it -- those decisions will await action. And they'll be very dependent on how the Russians respond in the days ahead."

Trump's remarks had caused consternation among many Republicans.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, tweeted that Trump's "statement suggesting moral equivalence between Putin's Russia and the United States of America is deeply troubling and wrong."

Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the United States should keep its sanctions against Russia in place while the country continues its occupancy of Crimea.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday that he "obviously" doesn't see Russia and Putin the same way Trump does.

"Putin's a former KGB agent. He's a thug. He was not elected in a way most people would consider a credible election. The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and mess around in our elections," McConnell said.

"I don't think there's any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does," he said.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who has been critical of Trump, said on ABC's "This Week" he doesn't understand what Trump's position on Russia is.

"Putin is a mess," Sasse said. "He's committed all sorts of murderous thuggery. And I am opposed to the way Putin conducts himself in world affairs and I hope that the president also wants to show moral leadership about this issue."


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