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Trump Congratulated Putin on His Sham Election, and John McCain Just Came at Trump Hard

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) holds a news conference with fellow GOP senators to say they would not support a 'Skinny Repeal' of health care at the U.S. Capitol July 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) rebuked President Donald Trump after Trump confirmed that he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his recent election victory.

"An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," McCain said in a statement.


He added: "And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country's future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin's regime."

Trump issued his remarks only a few days after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and other “malicious cyberattacks" and after it condemned Russia for its apparent role in a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil.

If the president was aware of how contentious his call to the Russian president would be, he gave no indication in his comments to White House reporters earlier this afternoon.

“We had a very good call,” Trump said in the Oval Office, where he was meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. “We will probably be meeting in the not-too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

The White House has also released a readout of the call, saying the two leaders "resolved to continue dialogue about mutual national security priorities and challenges."

"President Trump congratulated President Putin on his March 18 re-election, and emphasized the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders confirmed the need for the United States and Russia to continue our shared efforts on strategic stability," the readout said.

McCain's criticism referred to Sunday's Russian presidential election results, which secured Putin an expected victory. Official results showed that Putin, who has ruled the country as either president or prime minister since 1999, received 76 percent of the vote. His opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from the race. His nearest competitor, millionaire communist Pavel Grudinin, received roughly 12 percent of the vote.

Putin's campaign team called his win an "incredible victory."

"The percentage that we have just seen speaks for itself. It's a mandate which Putin needs for future decisions, and he has a lot of them to make," a spokesman told Russia's Interfax.

Putin, for his part, laughed when a reporter asked him if he would run again in another six years.

"What you are saying is a bit funny. Do you think that I will stay here until I'm 100 years old? No!" he said.

According to independent election monitoring group Golos, voting stations in the country suffered from hundreds of irregularities, including but not limited to voting papers which were found in ballot boxes before polls were officially opened, the decision by the state to bar observers from some polling locations, people who were bused to polling locations amid suspicion of forced voting, and webcams at some polling stations which were obscured by balloons and other obstacles.

That Trump would congratulate Putin on an election that was, by many accounts, rigged, was not lost on many of his critics.

Trump has been embroiled in a highly charged battle with U.S. intelligence agencies, continuously dismissing assessments which found that Russian operatives meddled in the 2016 presidential election, specifically to help him win. He also recently made headlines for lashing out at special counsel Robert Mueller, who is spearheading the investigation into Russian interference.

“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!” the president wrote Sunday, in yet another attempt to discredit the Russia investigation.

Earlier that weekend, the president touted the findings of the House Intelligence Committee, which concluded that no collusion took place. Democrats charge, however, that the Republican-led investigation was not as extensive as they would have liked and that more witnesses needed to be interviewed.

The president's tweet ignored that Republicans and Democrats were locked in a heated debate over a memo released by Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) which alleges abuses of covert surveillance powers by the FBI and suggests that the investigation into Russian meddling was tainted from the very beginning. It also doesn't mention that Democrats eventually wrote and released their own countermemo, drawn from the same material as the Republican-led investigation, or that Democrats are likely to release their own report, which should outline questions the party believes Republicans left unanswered.

The president also insisted that the Mueller investigation "should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime." He accused Mueller's team of basing their investigation on "fraudulent activities" and "a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC."

But the president also appears to be purposely misconstruing information to fuel his base supporters.

While it's true that  Hillary Clinton’s campaign commissioned the now infamous dossier, the dossier's existence is significantly more complicated than he lets on. He has also continued to insist that the controversial dossier containing allegations of collusion with the Russian government compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele was not just “disproven” but “paid for by Democrats.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released the unclassified transcript of the interview last August by Judiciary Committee members with Glenn Simpson, a founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, which the Clinton campaign retained to do opposition research on Trump. Simpson’s testimony indicates that Steele was so disturbed by his discoveries that he chose to alert the FBI.

Steele was initially hired to gather opposition research (something all campaigns do) about Trump for a Republican client. Steele alerted authorities when the information he received from a network of Russian sources described Trump’s business relationships with wealthy Russians and alleged ties to the Kremlin. The information came from two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

Steele had worked with the FBI before and was well regarded. He presented the bureau with information in July and in September 2016 suggesting collusion between Trump’s associates and Moscow in the DNC hack. He later met with an FBI official in Italy to share information alleging that a top Trump campaign official knew about the hacking as early as June 2016. A month after the election, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) gave former FBI Director James Comey a copy of Steele’s reports.

In the last 48 hours, politicians from both sides of the aisle have coalesced to caution the president about firing Robert Mueller. One of the more prominent voices is Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who, during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," had some strong advice for John Dowd, an attorney of the president's.

"If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it," Gowdy said. "The President's attorney frankly does him a disservice when he says that."

The president's admiration for Putin in light of the Russian election results is also suspect, considering he has continued to spread wholly false claims that “millions of votes were cast illegally," ironically casting doubt upon the legitimacy of the election he supposedly won. (He first made the claim in November 2016, shortly after winning the election.)

But in Kansas, his now-former adviser, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has repeatedly claimed and supported the suggestion that there are significant numbers of non-citizens who've voted illegally, struggles to prove his case in federal court. He has, in fact, come under fire for suppressing votes. A judge scolded him in court earlier today, saying she will likely hold him in contempt for failing to comply with her order that he fully register thousands of Kansas voters who had registered at the DMV but had failed to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, as required by a Kansas law that Kobach himself championed.